Free Church of Scotland Ministers (1843-1900): Obituaries W

Obituaries: W


Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died July 5, 1891)
Author: Professor Campbell Fraser
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, September, 1891, Obituary, p.276

Dr. James Walker is an example of uncommon spiritual power which failed to find adequate expression for itself in literature or in public affairs. Constitutional shyness and reserve; a certain uncouthness and unmethodical habit of life; want of the social tact which sometimes enables even small men to appear great; a disposition singularly averse to ostentation; a literary faculty hardly equal to the articulation of the innate thought; want of encouragement and opportunity in the ministry of a Presbyterian communion; above all, the impediment of an organism more or less disordered during most of his life, but especially in its last twenty years—were causes which concealed this good and naturally gifted man from all but a few. A forceful theologian within the range of thought to which he confined himself; honest, veracious, and brave within that sphere, and under its imposed conditions; working in every function under a severe ideal of duty; beloved by his few intimates, over whom he exerted a subtle, unconscious influence,—he has left no sufficient representation of himself in literature or in life. To those who knew him in his early and healthful years, the fragments of bibliographical and biographical work, or of theological criticism which he has published imperfectly, express the mind with which they were familiar in far-off years.

He was born in September 1821 at Carnwath, in Upper Lanarkshire. His father was minister of the parish, then and for many years before and after. In that breezy, moorland region young Walker got intellectual training in the parish school, and physical as an athlete on mountain and moor, in which last sort of education report says he was eminent as a boy. The effect of manly exercise was seen on the ruddy-faced youth, active in the class-rooms and debating societies of Edinburgh University about 1838—hard, dogmatic, combative in argument, full of unreflective masculine vigour in keeping with the physical organism, when in debate he defended the policy of Wellington and Peel in affairs of State, or of Principal Robertson and his successors in the management of the Church. But in the last years of his academic life one marked a transformation—mental and bodily—a softened temper, a rapidly-formed disposition to look at the ultimate problems, for a time in a mystical mood, and all with a much-deepened sense of the supernatural. Those were years of the crisis in the conflict which in the end disunited Scottish Presbyterians, and of the early stages in the great Catholic revival of the nineteenth century in the Church of England. Each influence moved him. Chalmers and Newman were, I suppose, both factors in the spiritual transformation—the first with a permanent sway; the other for a time, with some effect in forming the ideal that in after years was modified into a sort of Presbyterian High Churchism, with the martyrs of the covenant for its favourite saints. Then, too, Coleridge and Carlyle, Foster, the meditative essayist, and Isaac Taylor, the recluse of Stanford Rivers, had their share in educating him; —also Saint Augustine, and other early fathers; perhaps, too, his relative Edward Irving. It was in those distant college years that I first encountered his strong personality, and enjoyed a friendship which,—sustained by him in after years through differences of opinion and rarer opportunities of meeting,—remains to the survivor a grateful and affectionate memory. I remember an impassioned eulogium of Pope Hildebrand, in one of his college essays, illustrative of his mood at that time, and his attraction to types of saintly life in the primitive undivided Church, or in medieval Catholicism. In the end, the Puritan ideal of religious life took exclusive possession; and in matters of State policy the early Toryism disappeared when memories of the despotism of monarehs and popes put in the background of his imagination the despotism of unmixed democracies.

In the convulsion of 1843, Walker entered the service of the Free Church with characteristic faith and fervour, and soon found his home in his native parish of Carnwath, where he ministered in a remote rural society for more than thirty years, till long broken health obliged him to retire. There, like an Anglican pastor of the same name, “the wonderful Robert Walker,” celebrated by Wordsworth—

“Preaching, administering, in every work
Of his sublime vocation, in the walks
Of worldly intercourse between man and man,
And in his humble dwelling, he appears
A labourer, with moral virtue girt,
With spiritual graces, like a glory, crowned.”

At Carnwath, intellectual research was not entirely foreclosed by ill-health and the other impediments. It was, indeed, in conversation with an intimate friend that his thoughts and deep convictions most readily found vent, and in a way that seldom failed to call forth thought in those who could encounter him. I remember how his talk impressed my dear friend, the late Professor Bonamy Price of Oxford, on several occasions, especially after a ramble we all had together, some forty years ago, in the Vale of Rydal, under the influence of Arnold and Wordsworth. But in those years at Carnwath Walker’s ideas also made some imperfect passage for themselves through the press. A monograph on “Tertullian” appeared in 1858, in a volume of companion essays. The subject reminds one of his early attraction to the literature of the primitive Church, and disposition to look with historic sympathy beyond the centuries and communions to which Presbyterians are apt to confine their regard. It also illustrates that interest in Africa, with “its large share in directing and shaping the destinies of mankind,” to which he always said “historical injustice” had been done. There was something, too, I fancy, in the “rugged force” of this fiery African Father that was akin to his own impetuous genius— lurid gloom, irregular and unchastened force, ”blazing African fervour,” the strength of a giant and the feebleness of a child, medieval scholasticism and Puritan idealism united. Four years later, by a contribution to the North British Review, on “Sir William Lockhart of Lee,” he sought to reinstate in true historical position that “courtly Puritan,” of Lanarkshire birth, who held high office under Cromwell and again under Charles the Second, in steady adherence to one dominant principle under both. This and the “Tertullian” reveal an honest purpose to face historical facts in their true form and colour, an unfinished book, with its jets of thought and touches of sentiment, it takes, I believe, a certain place of authority. Its scope is limited, and its author is unmoved by modern thought and criticism. Neither the early Celtic Church nor medieval Catholicism is recognized; and even in the troubled seventeenth century, while Gillespie and Gib are prominent, Leighton and Forbes and Sage are not named. Some dogmas of his favourite divines about providence and predestination, and their theories of atonement, suggest Bacon’s warning, that “in divinity many things must be left abrupt,”—that only “broken lights” of the divine can be presented in the “little systems” of human understanding.

In April 1871 the University of Edinburgh conferred on Walker its honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, in consideration of these essays in theological literature. Health was a bar to his entering a chair of theology, which was otherwise, I believe, within his reach. Under more favourable conditions, personal and external, he might have become a unique figure in the history of religious thought in Scotland in the nineteenth century. The opportunity was wanting. The years that followed 1871 were years of patient suffering, partly relieved by foreign travel, the last seven spent in Edinburgh. There he waited the approach of “the Shadow cloaked from head to foot, who keeps the keys of all the creeds,” and the unveiling of the Secret of the Future which in this life he so often pondered. Death withdrew him from this world of sense upon Sunday the 5th of July. He died, as he had lived, in that faith in the infinite love and mercy of God incarnate in Jesus Christ, in which the saints of Christendom—Roman, Greek, and Anglican, as well as Nonconformist Puritan—find peace.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


The Record of the Free Church of Scotland, January 1, 1864, p.426

Another popular minister of the Free Church has been removed by death. The Rev. John Walker of Newton-Stewart in Galloway died on the 27th of November last, in perfect peace, and sincerely regretted by his own congregation and by Christians of all denominations. He was a gifted preacher and an able public speaker, indefatigable in his ministrations, a warm friend to the poor, and most hospitable to his brethren. Besides the faithful occupation of his extensive charge, he was deservedly esteemed for his zeal in Church extension and in the cause of education. He also earned reputation in Canada in 1851, when he ministered in Quebec for some months. His health and strength, previously robust, gave way about a year ago, and he has passed away at the age of fifty-three and in the twentieth year of his ministry. Mr. Walker was a native of Dalry in Kirkcudbrightshire, and unmarried.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


The Record of the Free Church of Scotland, April 1 1863

The Presbytery of Glasgow has lately been deprived of one of its most youthful members in the death of the Rev. John Lumsden Walker. He was a person of much modesty and gentlemanly bearing, of fine mental culture and earnest piety, and most diligent and devoted both in his pulpit and pastoral labours. A few years ago he was called to occupy the suburban station of Millerston, which, mainly by his persevering exertions, was ripened into a sanctioned charge, and he was ordained as its first minister. Mr. Walker had not a robust constitution, and more than once, from a tendency to pulmonary complaint, he was obliged to intermit, for a time, his public work. Last summer a manse was built in connection with the charge, and it was hoped by his people that he might be spared to live and labour long among them. God had otherwise ordered, for, on the last day of February he was somewhat suddenly removed from his sorrowing partner, to whom he had been united only six months previous, and from the flock who were so warmly attached to him. He died in the thirtieth year of his age and the fourth of his ministry.

It is worthy of notice that Mr. Walker’s predecessor in the station at Millerston (Mr. Heggie, a promising probationer) was compelled by illness to relinquish his post, and was also removed by death in the flower of his age. Let our younger ministers especially ponder the lesson which is taught by the history of “the early called” and let all our readers lay to heart the impressive admonition of the apostle: “But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Cor. 7:29-31).

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died February 22, 1884)
Author: Rev. James Dodds, Dunbar
Source: The Free Church Monthly, May 1, 1884, Biographical Notice, p.147

At Leven, Eife, on the 22nd February last, died the Rev. Andrew Wallace, who was for nearly thirty years minister of the Free Church of Cockburnspath and Oldhamstocks. Mr. Wallace was a native of Fife, and received a part of his early education at Kirkcaldy, where he was a pupil of Edward Irving, and often saw Irving’s friend Thomas Carlyle. He had a very clear recollection of these remarkable men as they appeared at Kirkcaldy in their schoolmaster days; and he could tell many anecdotes illustrative of their early character.

Having studied for the ministry at Edinburgh, he was in due time licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of Kirkcaldy, and for several years acted as a preacher, or as an assistant to various ministers in his native county. For some time before the Disruption he was assistant to the Rev. George Cunningham of Duns, uncle of Principal Cunningham. He was one of the numerous preachers who heartily joined the Free Church in 1843; and in 1846 he accepted a call from the Free Church congregation of Cockburnspath and Oldhamstocks, vacant by the lamented death of the Rev. Andrew Baird. When once he was settled in this interesting sphere of labour, he devoted all his energies to the discharge of his ministerial duties. He was a truly evangelical preacher, solid, sensible, and practical in his style, without much popular ornament. As a pastor he was singularly faithful and conscientious, taking a deep interest in the welfare of his widely-scattered flock, and preaching frequently at a distant hill-station on the banks of the Whitadder. His views on Church policy were chiefly those of Principal Cunningham, with whom he always held friendly relations, and whom he greatly admired. He was much esteemed by his brethren of the Presbytery, and by all who knew him; for he was a man of sterling worth, and in all the relations of life most reliable.

In 1874, owing to his advanced age, he resigned his charge, and returned to Leven, where in his own residence he spent the remainder of his days in tranquillity. On leaving his charge he generously declined to claim a retiring allowance of any kind, or a grant from the public funds of the Church. Till within some months of his death Mr. Wallace enjoyed tolerable health; and he frequently spent a few months in Edinburgh, where he could see many friends of his youth and riper years. At last his strength was gradually prostrated by the decay of nature, and he peacefully expired in the eighty-first year of his age.

Mr. Wallace was first married to Miss Marion Sked, a Dunbar lady; and some years after her death he was married to Miss M. Anne Rickarby, of Liverpool, who also died some years before his retirement from the ministry. He had no children by either of these marriages, and he lived during his last years with his sisters at Leven.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, August 1, 1867

Mr. Wallace was horn at Lowick, in Northumberland, in 1792, his father being Presbyterian minister there. When he was still very young the family removed from Lowick to Nenthorn, to which parish the father was translated. His son went early to college, was five years in the literary and philosophical classes in Glasgow, and five years in the divinity hall in Edinburgh. From the testimony of contemporaries we learn that he had a distinguished career at college, and this is confirmed by the numerous volumes in his library, which he received as class prizes. Immediately after obtaining license, in 1817, he came to the quiet parish of Barr as assistant to the Rev. Stephen Young, at whose death he was ordained to the pastorate on the 24th August 1819.

At that time there were men in the Presbytery of Ayr, able and accomplished, and highly popular as preachers, and among these Mr. Wallace soon took a foremost place. He was one of the most popular—if not the most popular and attractive preacher in Carrick.

On more than one occasion he was solicited to accept a call to a more prominent sphere of labour. He had all the qualities that fitted him for such a position— a clear penetrating intellect, a sound discriminating judgment, a firm grasp of constitutional principles, a thorough knowledge of Church history and of Church law, great readiness and effectiveness in debate, and fluency and gracefulness in style and expression. It was not unnatural, therefore, that those who knew his talents and worth should have desired for him a more prominent sphere in which to exert his influence. But he was himself not ambitious of this. He loved his quiet rural parish, he loved the people among whom he lived and laboured, and he was content to spend and be spent among them. And so in the regular and faithful discharge of his pastoral duties, in his pulpit ministrations from Sabbath to Sabbath, in his annual visitations from house to house, in his visits to the sick and the dying, and in all the manifold occupations of an earnest ministry, his life quietly and peacefully flowed on till the exciting times of the Disruption came.

When the day came he did not for a moment hesitate: he was ready to leave his parish-church and manse, and all the emoluments and social advantages pertaining thereto, and to cast himself in hope and trust on the care of divine providence and the sympathies and liberalities of his adhering people. He did this not rashly or thoughtlessly, or without a due appreciation of what he was surrendering. He knew the value of a settled endowment, and of the social position and influence of a parish clergyman. His tastes and sympathies led him to associate with the most cultivated and polished classes of society; and he was ever a welcome guest in the highest families in the county. He knew the worth of all that; but he also knew the infinitely higher worth of Christian principle and of Christian consistency—and, therefore, he did not hesitate to leave the Establishment, and cast in his lot with the Free Church of Scotland. His labours in building up that cause for which he made this sacrifice were very great.

As Free Church minister of Barr he continued his ministrations until growing infirmities warned him of the end. About two years ago—feeling that his strength was failing him—he took the necessary steps for obtaining a colleague. It pleased an all-wise Providence not only to lay him aside from active duty but also to stretch him on a bed of pain and weakness. And how fearfully he suffered during long weary months, and yet with what wonderful patience and Christian resignation he bore it all, is known only to those who were around him, and to Him who knoweth all Those great divine truths which he so often proclaimed were his comfort and his stay in those days of suffering. Only three months before his death, his sister—who was his loved companion from childhood—was also called to her rest: as pure, and gentle and loving a spirit as ever lived. Most truly and tenderly did she love her brother. And most affectionately did she watch by him and minister to him. Her wish was that if it pleased God she might not survive him. Her wish was granted. She was called away before him. And now she, and the brother whom she loved, rest side by side in the quiet churchyard. “They were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in death they were not divided.”

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died February 1870)
Author: Rev. W. G. Blaikie, D.D., Edinburgh
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, October 1, 1870, p.214

It is not too late to place on the pages of the Record a brief but cordial tribute to the memory of a beloved and honoured minister of the Free Church, whose lamented death occurred in the early part of the year. Mr. Wallace was born in Edinburgh in 1802, and his earliest appointment was that of assistant to the late Dr. Watson of Burntisland, an office on which he entered immediately after being licensed in 1827, and which he held for six years. In 1833 he was presented to the Parish Church of Hawick, on the recommendation of Dr. Chalmers, who, on the application being made to him, received a personal visit from the Duke of Buccleuch, his Grace being most anxious to find a worthy presentee for the charge. After ten years of laborious and faithful service in the Establishment, Mr. Wallace joined the Free Church in 1843, and for fourteen years continued his ministrations. After 1857 his labours began to be interrupted by failing health, and his connection with Hawick was more or less broken. The last few years of his life were spent in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, but whenever the shattered state of his health allowed, Mr. Wallace was ever ready to occupy the pulpits of his brethren, and his words fell with a subdued, tender solemnity on the hearts of his hearers, that revealed a spirit habitually dwelling in the world unseen. Mr. Wallace was one of the most useful and beloved of our ministers, and built up one of the largest congregations of the Free Church. Through a kind of shyness, or social diffidence, he did not come out freely in the various departments of Church life; and, in this respect, his influence was curtailed. But his public services were marked by a gentleness that disarmed opposition and conciliated his hearers; his prayers were real communications with Heaven; and in addressing the young he had a peculiar charm — like the Good Shepherd, he gathered the lambs with his arm, and carried them in his bosom.

Mr. Wallace was the author of several useful little works, including a collection of Testimonies in favour of the Free Church, “Lectures on the Seven Churches of Asia,” “Way-marks for Little Feet,” and a Memoir of his father-in-law, the late Mr. Nisbet, publisher, of London.

Several of his relations are well known in the Church. His eldest son is minister of the English Presbyterian Chnrch, Woolwich, and his son-in-law of the Free Church, Hawick. Most of his brothers were, or are, elders of Edinburgh Free Churches: the late Mr. James Wallace was an elder of Free St. John’s; the late Mr. William Wallace an elder-elect of the Free High Church; the late Mr. George Wallace an elder of Pilrig; and Mr. Ebenezer Wallace, W.S., is an elder in Free Tolbooth Church.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died March 31, 1887)
Author: Rev.John Macpherson, Findhorn
Source: The Free Church Monthly, December 1, 1887, Biographical Notices, p.369

Mr. Waters occupied an altogether unique position, having been for many years the oldest man among the ministers of the Free Church, and, with the exception of the venerable Dr. Beith of Stirling, Still happily spared to us, the eldest in date of ordination. His claim to be enrolled among the Church’s worthies, however, does not rest upon any such superficial and external grounds. Throughout a ministry extending ever sixty years, he was universally respected as a powerful evangelical preacher, a faithful and devoted pastor, a wise and hearty promoter of every good cause.

Mr. Waters was born at the farm of Gothagil, in the parish of Olrig, in the county of Caithness, on the 26th of February 1793. His father was a respectable farmer there, and he frequently spoke of both his parents as sincerely pious and most exemplary in their attention to the religious training of their family. Having obtained a good, sound education, first in his own parish school, and afterward in Tain Academy, he was appointed parish schoolmaster in Bower, not far from his birth-place, and entered upon his duties there in the eventful year 1815. In this situation he continued for ten and a half years, gaining, as those who knew him even in his later years will not be surprised to hear, a wide reputation as a teacher. By employing a substitute to teach for him during winter, he was allowed to go south and attend, session after session as a student the University of Edinburgh, where, after the usual curriculum, he graduated Master of Arts. His theological course was taken during the first three years at Edinburgh, and during the fourth at Aberdeen. He had at one time the idea of studying for the Original Secession Church, but was dissuaded from doing so by Dr. Colquhoun of Leith, for whose memory he always entertained a very sincere respect. In 1823 he was licensed by the Presbytery of Caithness, and in June 1825 was chosen out if a leet of five as minister of the chapel-of ease at Burghead, and, after some irritating delays, was ordained in 1826. His ministry being of a most pronouncedly evangelical kind, he was subjected to a good deal of annoyance on the part of the Moderate members of the Presbytery. His congregation continued steadily to grow, and his church had repeatedly to be enlarged. At the Disruption he threw in his lot with the Free Church, and was followed, with scarcely an exception, by his congregation. Towards the close of 1841, the new church, a commodious and suitable building, still in thoroughly good repair, was opened by Mr. Carment of Rosskeen, a life-long friend and helper of Mr. Waters. About fifteen years after the Disruption the people of Hopeman village, about two miles off, who had hitherto been members of the Burghead church, were formed into an independent congregation, now large and flourishing. In 1860 Burghead and Hopeman, like many other towns and villages throughout Scotland, were visited with a wave of spiritual blessing. Singular wisdom was shown by Mr. Waters in the management and general control of the movement. Many of the wisest and best instructed Christian workers in the congregation at the present day date their conversion from that period, and speak often of the noble service done by Mr. Waters and those whom he invited to assist him in the work. Throughout his long ministry, Mr. Waters regularly continued the practice of catechising his congregation, and often remarked to his friends that he believed more good had been done by him through these exercises than in any other way. During the whole period of his residence in Burghead, he also did much for the reform of social habits. What were called “perny weddings”—gatherings which were the scenes of much excess and rioting—were special objects of his aversion; and he was wont to say, with the most evident satisfaction, that after forty years’ persistent battle he had succeeded in practically stamping them out. To the very last he was intensely interested in education. He was never without some pupils, promising boys of his congregation, whom he assisted to prepare for the Normal School or the University. A peculiarly pathetic interest attaches to his latest pupil. Just eight days before his death, Mr Waters had given his usual lesson in Latin to a promising young lad, pupil-teacher in the public school; and the company assembled to attend the funeral of the aged minister heard, with surprise and sorrow, that the youthful pupil, who had made preparations the night before to be present as a mourner, had himself that morning been summoned to follow his loved and revered teacher.

In 1877 Mr. Waters was relieved of the full responsibility of his charge by the appointment of Mr. Niven as his colleague and successor, and for some years back the junior minister has undertaken all the active duties of the pastorate. But the senior minister continued to preach with vigour and acceptance after he had reached his ninetieth year.

Mr. Waters had married in 1844 Miss Macphersm, a lady belonging to Wick, by whom he is survived. She proved a true helpmeet, and did noble work, especially among the young women of the village.

Mr. Waters was a man of very marked individuality, brimful of humour, and with a singularly rich store of quaint reminiscences, which he could tell in quite an inimitable way. He was at the same time everywhere the man of God, thoroughly furnished. Respected all around for his undoubted intellectual power, he was no less trusted as a wise, loving pastor, and honoured as a consistent Christian man.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died January 6, 1892)
Author: Professor Iverach, D.D., Aberdeen
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, May, 1892, Obituary, p.122

Mr. Waterston was a man who had many friends, and who always showed himself friendly. It was a pleasure to meet him. His bright, cheerful manner, his ready and pleasant laugh, his readiness to give and take, and his quick and glad response to the humour of his friends, made him a welcome companion. He knew how to make the hours pass swiftly, and many a pleasant memory have his friends of the hours spent with him in railway carriages, going to or returning from the committees. Whether we were occupied with the topics of the hour, or talking about the matters of the Church, or discussing men and manners, Mr. Waterston was always pleasant and delightful. Open and frank himself, he was always ready to place the best possible construction on the motives, character, and actions of other men. Having decided views on the numerous questions which have been the subject of discussion in the Free Church, and holding clear views as to the path the Church ought to follow, he never allowed these views to interfere with private friendship; nor did he ever think that those opposed to him were less conscientious than himself.

Richard Waterston was born in Edinburgh in 1830. His family were connected with the congregation of the Original Secession Church, which had been under the ministry of the two McCries, father and son. When a youth, he sat under the ministry of the younger Dr. McCrie. Traces of the influence of such religious training and of the character and ethos of the Secession clung to him through life, and made part of his strength and charm. His family joined the Free Church at the Union in 1852. But Mr. Waterston anticipated the Union. Having made up his mind to devote himself to the ministry of the Word, he began his divinity studies in the Free Church College. He had received his early education at the Edinburgh High School and at the University of Edinburgh. He was a diligent and successful student, and his early studies gave promise of future eminence. He was first in Sir William Hamilton’s class, with Professor Veitch of Glasgow and Professor Calderwood as competitors. He took the degree of B.A. at a time when few students of the Edinburgh University thought of graduating; and after completing his curriculum at the New College he was licensed to preach the gospel in 1855. He was sent to Breslau by the Jewish Committee, where he laboured with success for six months. Returning to Edinburgh, he spent fully a year in literary work as one of the sub-editors of the “Encyclopaedia Britannica.” His work was highly valued by the editors and publishers of the “Encyclopaedia,” and the publishers, we believe, had much confidence in his knowledge and judgment. Through him it was that the late Principal Candlish was led to publish his work, ”Life in a Risen Saviour.” Mr. Waterston, on the part of the publishers, approached the Principal, through him all the arrangements were made, and these were so satisfactory, both to the publishers and to Dr. Candlish, that all the subsequent books of Principal Candlish were published by Messrs A. and C. Black. Nor were these the only works which Mr. Waterston was the means of getting published. He showed such business aptitude, knowledge of literature and of men, and literary power, that without doubt he would have risen to eminence as a writer and a publisher.

His heart was, however, in the work of the ministry, and to that work he gave himself with undivided energy. His was no half-hearted service. He gave his whole strength to it; his studies were devoted to such subjects as bore directly on ministerial work. Whatever ambition he may have had, whatever attractions other fields of labour had for him, were sternly set aside, and he was emphatically a minister of the Word. He was ordained to Forfar Free Church on January 14, 1858, where he continued to labour with conspicuous success until he was called to Union Church, Glasgow, to which charge he was inducted on February 28, 1867, from which he was translated to St. Paul’s, Dundee, and inducted on September 26, 1878. His people in these three charges have a grateful recollection of him and of his work. He had given himself to them, and he was not the man to spare himself. He made full proof of his ministry, nor did he neglect any part of it. He knew his people thoroughly: their characters, their circumstances, their cares, their difficulties and trials, were well known to him; and they found in him a friend on whose wise judgment they could always rely, and whose sympathy never failed them. The bonds between him and his people were very close and intimate, and his knowledge of them helped him greatly in his preparation for his preaching. He knew he had to speak to living people, with real burdens to bear, real work to do, and real sufferings to endure; and he spoke to them what he had found in the Word of God, truths which had a real meaning for them, and an actual bearing on their particular state and circumstances.

What impressed me most in the pulpit services of Mr. Waterston was the fervour and the power, the depth and the spirituality of his devotional exercises. I do not think I ever heard anything like them anywhere. His prayers laid hold on one and held him captive. We were seized, as it were, with irresistible power, carried into the immediate presence of the living God, were made to feel that we were indeed in the house of God, and our spirits were filled with unutterable reverence in the presence of the Holy One. The feeling of awe was almost oppressive. But awe and reverence were not the only feelings which filled our hearts as we were borne along on the great stream of the devotion of him who led our prayers. There was humble, childlike, bold confidence—the confidence of one who knew the graciousness of God. He felt how dreadful sin was, and how blessed was the sense of the forgiveness of sin. Then we remember how great a burden fell on us, as the weight of the sin and misery of the world fell on him who led our prayers and on us; and we could sympathize with him fully as he poured forth his passionate pleading for the lost, the erring, and the sinful. Then there was particular, earnest supplication, evidently for some persons known to him and to God, but not to us; and over all and through all a sense of the nearness of God and of rest in him. It was to me, when first I heard Mr. Waterston in prayer, a revelation of the power of prayer. The effect was intense, and the memory has remained with me to this hour. To me, whenever I have heard him, this has been the marked outstanding feature of his pulpit ministrations. His sermons were indeed of a very high order—exact, exegetical study was at the foundation of every one of them; and every sermon struck one as the outcome of a thoughtful, reflective, and devout mind. He wrote and spoke as one always responsible for the message he bore to his people. Every one could see that he was an ambassador for Christ; and the truth he found in Scripture he was bound to speak. It was God’s truth, Christ’s message to sinful men, and as such he spoke it. In his sermons, too, there were manifest a wide knowledge of many things, a gathering from many spheres of literature and science of what might illustrate and enforce the truth, and an acquaintance with the workings of the human heart, and with the manifestations of human character, which made them impressive and profitable. But we have heard other preachers as impressive, as profitable as he; but we have never been in the presence of a man whose prayers helped us to penetrate within the veil, and to grasp the realities of the unseen world, as those of Mr. Waterston did. His training amongst the men of prayer in the Secession Church may have had something to do with it; his training under the ministry of the younger Dr. McCrie and of the late Dr. Bruce of Free St. Andrew’s Church, Edinburgh, may have helped; but mainly it was a personal gift—a gift unequalled in our experience.

Mr. Waterston occupied a large and influential position in the counsels of our Church. He took a prominent and useful place in the General Assembly. When he happened to be a member, he was made convener of one of the committees of the Assembly to which important business was remitted. He was also a member of some of the more important standing committees of the Church, and in these his opinion had always great weight. He had a wide and exact knowledge of the affairs of Church, and his business aptitude was very great. When any work was intrusted to him by the Church, he spared no pains and grudged no labour in order to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. He was often a member of those commissions which the General Assembly has to send down from time to time in order to restore harmony in a divided congregation, or to settle some other difficult matter which the Assembly did not find itself in circumstances to determine. In all these cases he acted with tact, skill, and knowledge, and was greatly helpful in bringing them to a happy conclusion. In one difficult and troublesome case of a divided congregation he was convener of the commission; and largely owing to his wisdom and knowledge of men harmony was happily restored, and that congregation is again one.

The death of Mr. Waterston leaves a great blank in the ranks of the more prominent men in the Free Church. Many mourn his loss—many among the three congregations who enjoyed the high privilege of his ministry; many among the friends to whom his presence always brought strength and joy; many among those who sought his advice in matters which concerned the Church; and many of the ministers of the Church to whom his help was readily given communion seasons. Mr. Waterston was married and leaves a widow and children. He was happy in his marriage, and was greatly sustained and strengthened by the companionship of his devoted wife. She helped and encouraged him in all his work; shared his anxieties, and cheered him in those times of depression to which all ministers are liable. His happy home helped him to do his work with the joy which was one feature of his ministry. He was able to carry on his ministry to within a few months of his death. When the trouble was made manifest from which he died, he was looking forward with hope to a new development of work in the mission district wrought by his congregation. The mission premises had been enlarged, and he was about to work it more energetically. But his work was done. The Master called him, and he entered on his rest. It is well with him.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, November 1, 1866, p.18

There has recently passed away one, whose name is familiar to the Christian public in connection with a volume of “Family Prayers,” which has had a wide circulation: a man of rare endowments—in whom Christian faith and godly sincerity were associated with natural gifts and mental culture of a very high order—but who has been so long withdrawn from public life, and, indeed, from the ordinary intercourse of society, as to be but little known to the present generation.

Dr. Watson was a native of Edinburgh, born in 1794. Of a godly parentage, he received at an early period deep and lasting impressions of divine things; and growing up under the ministry of such men as Dr. Campbell of the Tolbooth, and Dr. Jones of Lady Glenorchy’s, his views of the gospel became very clear and decided. He had been a student from his very boyhood, and had early acquired an extraordinary knowledge of books in various departments of literature; but the pulpit was his aim, the work of the ministry was to be his business for life, and theology soon became his favourite study. Soon after entering the Divinity Hall, he came into possession of considerable property, which made him independent for life; but this did not in any degree alter his purpose; he continued to prosecute his studies for the ministry with unusual ardour, and it is to be feared laid the foundation of those ailments under which he afterwards suffered so much.

He was licensed by the presbytery of Edinburgh in 1817; and in 1820 was ordained as assistant and successor to the Rev. James Wemyss, in the parish of Burntisland. He exercised his ministry there for a period of about five years, giving promise of eminent usefulness and success as a preacher. Those most competent to judge believed that he was destined ere long to occupy a more prominent position. But the great Head of the Church had determined otherwise. His health began to fail within a year or two after his settlement at Burntisland. In 1825 he was compelled to relinquish public duty, and soon after went to the south of England, where he remained several years. He returned to Scotland in 1830; but though his general health was improved, he was an invalid for life. The special affection of the throat and chest, which had originally laid him aside, still remained; not only unfitting him, absolutely and entirely, for public speaking, but even for anything like free and unrestrained conversation in private.

The rest of his life he spent in retirement, having little intercourse with any beyond the circle of his own family and a few intimate friends; even there he only spoke in a whisper, and was often obliged to have recourse to a slate. Those who did not know him might be disposed to attribute his extreme seclusion to a gloomy and unsocial temperament: there could not be a greater mistake; few men enjoyed conversation so much, or were so well fitted to excel in it. A shrewd observer of men and things, with varied sympathies, great readiness and felicity of expression, large stores of information and anecdote, a lively appreciation of wit and humour, and all seasoned with the salt of good feeling and discretion—he was made to enjoy society, and would have been the favourite of any circle of intelligent and educated men. But from this source of enjoyment he was in a great measure cut off by the nature of his complaint. When we add, that he suffered so much from weakness of eyes that he could not use them, in reading or writing, beyond a few minutes at a time—having, in fact, been debarred from the personal perusal of books during more than half his life—it will be seen how very peculiar was the discipline to which he was subjected. It seemed as if the hand of the Lord were laid very heavily upon him; as if his heavenly Father meant to hedge up his way, and cut him off from all those pursuits and engagements in which he was most eminently fitted to excel, and in which he would have found the greatest enjoyment. For a man, so richly endowed, to find himself laid aside from the ministry, cut off from society, and condemned to silence and inaction—and that whilst great movements were going on in the Church, which he watched with the deepest interest—this assuredly was trying discipline, prolonged for more than forty years. But it was the discipline of a Father; sanctified for his good, and working in him the peaceable fruits of righteousness. His friends could not but remark in him, more and more, a chastened spirit, a patient and submissive mind. He had learned to say, “Thy will be done;” he was cheerful and uncomplaining to the end.

His last illness was of short duration. In the end of July he had a shock of paralysis, which, though not very severe, was such as to leave no room for doubt as to its real nature. After a few days there was a decided appearance of amendment, and the hope was entertained that he would regain some measure of strength. But he seemed from the first to realize the issue. He had got the summons to set his house in order. He received it, as became his Christian character and experience, with perfect calmness and composure, with deep solemnity and self-abasement, with a simple unwavering faith in a crucified Saviour. His intercourse with his family at this time was of a very interesting and impressive kind. It was a short and solemn interval: about three weeks after the first attack, he had a second, which proved fatal in a few minutes. He died August 11th, in the seventy-third year of his age.

It would be difficult to give any adequate estimate of Dr. Watson’s character in a few lines; and just because his was one of that high order of minds, distinguished by the harmony and just proportion of their faculties. To an acute and vigorous intellect, a lively fancy, a cultivated taste, a remarkable command of appropriate language, he added a strength and soundness of judgment rarely equalled. His friends might often be disposed to conjecture what he would have been, had health and strength been granted, as a preacher, a theologian, or a professor. But in their intercourse with him, what struck them most was his gift of Christian wisdom—the result of high intelligence and sound judgment, combined with Christian faith, spiritual discernment, and mature experience. Warmly attached to the Free Church, he was fitted to have been, in other circumstances, one of her ablest and wisest counsellors. It might appear strange, that, in the providence of God, such excellent gifts did not find exercise in the sphere for which they were so specially adapted. Verily the Lord giveth not account of any of his matters. But doubtless his servant now understands, as he could not have done before, how all has been ordered by infinite love and unerring wisdom.

Besides the “Family Prayers,” which have gone through many editions, Dr. Watson was the author of several smaller works; more particularly, “Hints on Christian Experience,” and “Addresses on Subjects connected with the Lord’s Supper.” He was also the author of the Memoir prefixed to the posthumous volume of sermons by Dr. Andrew Thomson.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died April 20, 1891)
Author: Dr. Thomas Smith
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, October, 1891, Obituary, p.308

Any tendency to murmur at the removal of one after another of our “Disruption Worthies” is checked by the consideration that it is a matter of thankfulness that the Free Church had so many of such men to lose, and that she has been permitted to retain them so long. Mr. Watson was not in the technical sense a pre-Disruption minister, as his ordination was delayed for several years by a reason to which I shall have to refer; but in every right sense of the term he wras a pre-Disruption minister.

Mr. Watson was born in Edinburgh in 1813, and all through his life cherished the mingled admiration and affection with which the sons of the “gray metropolis” regard their “own romantic town.”

The present writer became acquainted with him on entering college in 1829-30. From the first Mr. Watson took a high place among his fellow-students. His tastes and talents, his conscientious studiousness, and a degree of ambition which was subsequently eliminated from his character, led to his occupying a high place in the Latin and Greek classes, and those of logic and moral philosophy. In the mathematical and natural philosophy classes he was contented to go through the routine work. But it was not in the classes alone that Mr. Watson held a high place. In the “Philomathic Society,” and afterwards in the “Diagnostic,” with which the “Philomathic” was united, he had the reputation of being the best debater. One might excel him in a formal and carefully-prepared speech, and another might be happier in a brief, extemporaneous reply; but there was no one who united the diverse qualities which go to furnish the debater for all occasions to the extent to which they were united in him. Then and all through his life he took a special interest in politics, and was far in advance of most of his competitors both in the extent of his historical knowledge and in originality of thought and acuteness of criticism. At this time he was regarded as a youth of high moral principle. Whether he was at this time actuated by religious principle, or only by a worldly sense of honour, I do not know, but from casual remarks which he made long afterwards I conclude that the grace of God was already constraining him.

On his entrance into the Divinity Hall, Mr. Watson was enthralled by the twofold—happily not conflicting but conspiring—forces of Dr. Chalmers’s massive thought and Dr. Welsh’s exquisite taste and subtle analytic criticism. From this time his ambition to gain distinction as a debater and ecclesiastic gradually waned, being supplanted by the sanctified ambition to do the work of an evangelist and to edify the Church of Christ.

Of his actual class-fellows the only survivors, so far as I know, are Dr. Addis of Morningside and myself. Others were Professor Smeaton, Mr. Dodds of Dunbar, Mr. Bell of Leswalt, and Mr. Leslie Millar of Newcastle. But as students had in those days to attend the senior class of theology three sessions, we were associated with Mr. McCheyne, Dr. Somerville, Dr. Laughton, Dr. Andrew Bonar, and Dr. Thomas Brown, who were our seniors, and with Dr. Daniel Edward, our junior. We had also with us for two sessions Mr. Halley, Dr. Walter Stewart of Leghorn, Dr. James Hamilton of London, and Mr. John Macfarlane of Greenock; and for one session Dr. Murray Mitchell, now of Nice.

Mr. Watson was on intimate terms with all these but I think his most special friends were Mr. Thorburn of Strathkinness and Mr. Cleghorn of Leuchars.

Shortly after receiving license, Mr. Watson went to labour in Logiealmond, but only as a probationer. This had long been a preaching-station, and had been occupied by many men who subsequently occupied prominent places in the Church, but it has not been sanctioned as a ministerial charge. Mr. Watson was much blessed in his work here, and according to the testimony of his successors in the charge, blessed fruits of his ministry remain, and his name is held in hallowed memory. He took special interest in the young, and several ministers of our Church recognize him as their spiritual father and their constant friend. The ”Ten Years’ Conflict” was being waged, and Mr. Watson was a leader of the faithful in his district. When the Disruption came, it was not doubted that Logiealmond would be one of the districts where sites were refused but it was felt that it would be too odious a procedure to eject from the district a man of so high character and so much beloved as Mr. Watson. It was therefore intimated that the Free Church might remain, so long as he continued to be its minister. The first act of the Free Presbytery of Perth was to ordain him as Free Church minister of Logiealmond. But his ministry was carried on under great difficulties. No site could be got for a manse, and he was compelled to live at a distance of three miles from the church. Like many of his brethren, he suffered permanently in his health from the hardships and the excessive labours of the Disruption period. It was repeatedly in his option to leave Logiealmond, but he resisted all attempts to move him, until at last he was prevailed on to accept a call to Ratho in December 1853.

In Ratho also his ministry was much blessed. By his constant and faithful preaching, not only in his church but at other places in the district, and by his diligent discharge of his pastoral duties, he gained the affections of the members of his flock, while his superior intellect and steadfast Christian character commanded the respect of men of all denominations The failure of his health compelled him to resign his charge in December 1879, and since then he lived in Edinburgh. He knew that sudden death through heart disease was his doom, and he looked forward to it with solemnity but without fear. It came to him on the 20th of April, in the present year, to his great gain, but to the intense sorrow of his loving wife, to the tender regret of many relatives and of friends who loved him well, and to the loss of many whom he was ever ready to counsel and to help.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died May 22, 1889)
Author: Rev. Alexander West, Cromar
Source: The Free Church Monthly, August, 1889, Biographical Notices, p.247

On the eve of the meeting of the General Assembly of our Church militant at Edinburgh, the spirit of our brother took its flight on high to join the Church triumphant in glory.

Mr. Watt was born at Roseburn, Aboyne, in the year 1822, and was early sent to the parish school there. At twelve years of age he was sent to Aberdeen Grammar School, where he took a bursary. After two years he entered the university with a view to the ministry in the Established Church of Scotland; he also here took a bursary. At the close of his curriculum he took the degree of M.A. He attended a partial session at the Divinity Hall in the winter of 1842-43, at the close of which he undertook the charge of a parish school in the north of Aberdeenshire. While here engaged as teacher, the ever-memorable Disruption took place, and the Free Church was formed. Mr. Watt had been prepared before this time for taking the side of the evangelical party. When a student at Aberdeen the motive power of his future life laid hold of his heart. It was not an influence from within the walls of that ancient seat of learning. There visited the Granite City at this time a messenger of heaven, the Rev. William Burns, who was proclaiming the word with great power. Mr. Watt was one of those who were interested and aroused. He was a constant attender on Mr. Burns’s ministrations, being found not only in the general audience, but in the inquiry meeting. He became a new creature, being born from above. The first evidence of this was his asking his landlady, along with a companion, for liberty to carry on a prayer-meeting in his lodgings. This was granted. He also entered on Sabbath-school teaching in earnest. A man with such a life within could not be hid, go where he might. The occasion would not be long awanting in the stirring Disruption days for such a man manifesting his principles. One evening he was invited to a party at the manse. The laird, the minister, his elders, and others, were there. The engrossing topic of conversation during the evening was the Non-intrusion controversy, and the question of the Disruption. The Free Church party had it hot that evening; no one could with impunity lift the voice in defence. The minister observing that the young dominie was not joining in the general detestation of the new and separate Church in the land, at last with the zeal of an inquisitor asked Mr. Watt, “What do you think of the Non-intrusionists?” He calmly but firmly replied, “I believe they are in the right.” This reply was unexpected in the presence of such a company. There was general surprise; the clergyman was disconcerted and enraged, and said to Mr. Watt, “If that is your opinion you can be no longer teacher in this parish.” Some present tried to pacify the minister and to excuse Mr. Watt, but it would not do. He had to leave the school at an early date; but the Lord was with him. A side school was offered him at Gorskie, between Skene and Cluny, which he accepted and managed for a short period; but a larger school and sphere were opened for him at Banchory in connection with the Free Church, where he taught for two years. At this time he studied theology under the special superintendence of the Free Presbytery of Kincardine O’Neil, which prescribed books and subjects, duly examined him, and gave him a certificate which in the circumstances was sustained by the Synod of Aberdeen. He afterwards attended the Free Church Halls in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, and was licensed as a preacher of the gospel in the Free Church of Scotland, by the Presbytery of Kincardine O’Neil, on the 10th of February 1848. He was our first licentiate. He had preached in various places during his probationership. He was supplying the pulpit of the Free South Church, Aberdeen, when he received a call to Kinneff—his first and only charge. Here he ministered to an attached congregation for the long period of thirty-four years. During the later years of his ministry, his health became so much impaired by repeated attacks of disease, that he had to apply to the General Assembly for a colleague, which was allowed, and in the year 1883 he retired from the pastoral oversight of his congregation. He settled down at Aboyne, and seemed at times considerably improved in health, but his disease was too deep seated to be thoroughly eradicated. It hung on him like a Nemesis from year to year, but found not the vulnerable point, until the Power Supreme said, “There.” He applied on various occasions in his severe attacks of illness to Dr. P. H. Watson, Edinburgh, that generous friend of indisposed Free Church ministers, and Mr. Watt believed that under God he owed the prolonging of life to the skill of this physician. Mr. Watt very often generously supplied my pulpit when from home, and my people very largely enjoyed his ministrations. His preaching was clear, able, earnest, and evangelical. The hand of God is manifestly shown in his last appearance among us. He came among us divinely prepared for the performance of his last services for the Master on earth. Never before had we met him so spiritually minded, so full of pleasure in Christian fellowship, so open-hearted and free. He seemed to us in a higher life than ever we had known him before. His last word on John 3:14 will never be forgotten by any who heard it. Christ was set forth with a fervour, a fulness, and a simplicity unsurpassed. Happy with his latest breath, he was permitted to gasp his name. Little did we think that his last illness was so soon to overtake him. Four days after he left our manse he was laid very low. Human skill could only partially relieve his distress. The distress, however, was only physical; within the promise held true, “My peace I give unto you.” When asked how he felt within in the hour of his sore trouble, he replied, ” Peace, perfect peace; the Lord has redeemed me from all my iniquities.” “Sorrow not as those who have no hope,” for “them who sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” He leaves a widow to mourn his loss.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


The Record of the Free Church of Scotland, November 1, 1862

Died, at Elgin, on the 16th ult., in the 49th year of his age and the 23d year of his ministry, the Rev. Robert John Watt, minister of the Free High Church there.

Mr. Watt was born near Coleraine, in Ireland, in the month of July, 1813. He was the son of eminently godly parents. His father was, for forty years, an elder in the Irish Presbyterian Church. His mother was a member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Their high character for godliness had gained for them, in the district in which they lived, the name of “the praying Watts.” They had early, with one heart and many prayers, dedicated their youngest child, the subject of this notice, to the service of the Lord in the ministry. Mr. Watt owed much to his mother’s prayers and instructions. Her death which occurred when he was only fourteen years of age, was the turning point of his life. He then gave himself to the Lord, and his life to the Lord’s work. He was a student of Belfast College, and pursued his theological studies at Paisley under the late Dr. Andrew Symington. In the year 1839 he was ordained minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Congregation, College Street South, Belfast. In 1842 he was translated to Stranraer and became minister of the congregation there in connection with the Original Secession Synod.

When the Union took place between that Synod and the Free Church in 1852, Mr. Watt did not at once signify the part he was to take. He had been suffering from a severe and dangerous illness, which left him no opportunity of bringing the matter fully before his congregation, and he deemed it unjust to them to take a decided step before he had been able fully and fairly to confer with them on the whole subject. His own decision, when he announced to them his determination to follow his brethren who had joined the Free Church, led to a separation between him and his people, to whom he was fondly attached. This he always spoke of as one of the sorest trials of his life. Not long after he received a call to the Free High Church in Elgin, the call being signed by upwards of 1100. He continued to labour actively in Elgin until his last illness. Two years before his death his health manifestly began to give way. Towards the autumn of 1861 he had a severe stroke of paralysis, and though he rallied for a time, it was only to be again and again overtaken by threatenings of similar attacks which at last wore out his strength, and brought him, in the prime of life, to the grave.

Mr. Watt was greatly beloved by his people, both in his pulpit ministrations and in his pastoral visitations among them. He was a man of no common powers. He was singularly unselfish, transparently simple-minded, guileless, and of a most meek and quiet spirit. His humility was very great. His personal religion was very deep, fervent, prayerful. He was one fitted in every relation of life, to secure the love, the respect, and the thorough trust of all about him. The beauties of his character and the power of divine grace in him were eminently displayed during his last illness. From the very first he was meekly and uncomplainingly submissive to God’s will, willing to live if God had work for him on earth, willing and ready to die if God so willed. Indeed, the last year of his life may be said to have been spent “within the veil,” so unceasing and childlike was his communion with his Saviour. His name and memory are indeed fragrant to those who were privileged to know him as their minister, or as their fellow-worker in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or as their personal friend. In every relation of life he was beloved and esteemed. His loss is mourned by an attached flock, and by friends who were drawn to him by the unaffected candour and simplicity of his character, and the true nobleness and generosity of his nature. He was a good servant of Christ Jesus.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died January 14, 1897)
Author: Rev. Malcolm Mclean, Gartmore
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, November, 1897, Obituary, p.272

quoad sacra church and parish of Bucklyvie— one of Dr. Chalmers’s church extension charges, and on the thirtieth of November following was ordained by the Presbytery of Dunblane. The stipend was the modest one of £70 per annum, with £14 for the expenses of two communions—in all £84, and no manse.

These were stirring times, but Mr. Watt never faltered in his devotion to the evangelical cause, and to the non-Intrusion principles of the party that left the church.

It is very interesting to note some of the reminiscences of those days which have been preserved by Mr. Watt.

There is that scene at the meeting of the synod which met at Stirling in April 1843. The court was interdicted from proceeding to business, on the ground that the ministers of quoad sacra parishes were ineligible as members. Mr. Monilaws of Tulliallan was the moderator, and when the interdict was put into his hands, he stated that he as Moderator was now under civil coercion, and no longer in a capacity for the discharge of its functions, and that he would therefore leave the chair, which he did, with the hearty approval of his non-Intrusion friends. After a while he thought better of it, continued in the Establishment, and died as parish minister of Peebles. But the quiet, earnest, quoad sacra minister of Bucklyvie read his interdict and made up his mind, was a member of the Disruption Assembly, and signed the Deed of Demission. In his own quiet way he tells the story of that wonderful summer, and what happened when Dr. Gray of Kincardine preached the church of Bucklyvie vacant in the village inn.

The Presbytery of Dunblane interdicted Mr. Watt in July 1843, and the services for some time were held in the open air; some wavered, and joined other churches, but there was always a faithful remnant. Meanwhile the neighbouring congregation of Norrieston had fixed their affections on Mr. Watt, and on the seventh of September 1843 he was inducted to that charge, his call having been signed by 322, chiefly communicants.

From note-books carefully kept for more than half a century, it is easy to gather what manner of man he was from the beginning, the refrain that continually comes in is, “Oh to be faithful!” And by the help of God he was enabled to make full proof of his ministry for more than forty years. In his early years he was a popular preacher. In the religious enthusiasm of that wondrous time men flocked to hear him, especially at communion seasons. But he was known far and wide as a model pastor, and as a man who kept close to Christ as a fountain of spiritual life. As Dr. Nixon from the moderator’s chair said of the late Mr. Leitch of Stirling—one of Mr. Watt’s intimate friends— “He wore out his life in quiet work under his Master’s eye.”

He had a happy home, and a faithful and prudent wife, who predeceased him. He had many trials and bereavements, but they were all borne patiently, and they made him a son of consolation in many stricken homes. In 1879, a colleague, on whom devolved the full charge of the congregation, was ordained. It was still the patriarch’s delight, as far as his strength permitted, to assist his brethren by occasional pulpit services, and not till he had reached his eighty-fourth year was he compelled to desist from his much-loved work of preaching the glorious gospel of the grace of God. He will be long remembered by his friends as a fair type of the kind of men who made the Free Church of Scotland —earnest, sensible, practical, godly men, who feared the Lord, and made sacrifices. “The memory of the just is blessed.”

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died 24th April, 1845)
The Free Church Magazine, May, 1845

It is our most painful duty to record the death of the Rev. David Welsh, D.D., Professor of Church History in the New College, Edinburgh. This mournful event occurred at Drumfork House, Dumbartonshire, on Thursday, 24th April.

For some months past the state of Dr Welsh’s health had occasioned a very general anxiety, as it was understood that he laboured under an organic disease of the heart. His sufferings at times were very severe, and his feeble frame was latterly reduced to a state of great debility. Still he was never entirely laid aside from duty (even on the day of his death he took his accustomed carriage airing) and his friends clung to the hope that he might be spared some time longer among us, to edify our Church by his sagacious counsels, and to prepare for the press the lectures which he might be unable to deliver from the Chair; but it has been otherwise ordered by the wise Disposer of all events. His toil is over, his sufferings are ended, and now he rests in the bosom of Everlasting Love.

The removal of this distinguished and most estimable man has diffused a very sincere and unaffected sorrow throughout the community; and the Church in particular, which he loved and adorned, is bowed down to the dust under a sense of her irreparable loss. The high station which he occupied at the time of the Disruption, and his meek and dignified deportment at that memorable crisis, freed as it was from the least appearance of pride or human passion, invested him latterly with a peculiar and almost sacred interest. The wisdom, humility, and calm fortitude which he displayed in the presence of the opponents of the Church’s claims, and the simple but sublime devotions with which, on opening the proceedings at Canonmills, he elevated and composed the minds of the vast assemblage, met in sorrow and amazement, endeared him to many who, from his extreme unobtrusiveness, had not previously been acquainted with his great merits. But his fame rests on a broader and securer basis than that which is founded on accidental circumstances and individual acts. His services, as a benefactor of his Church and country, have been too numerous and important not to be long and gratefully remembered.

Dr Welsh’s claims on our veneration and regard did not arise from the possession of commanding power, or from an unrivalled eminence in any one department of scholarship or science. He did not aspire to the rank of those master-minds that appear on rare occasions, moulding the character of their age, shaping the course of events, and determining the destinies of nations; nor did he arrive at super-eminent or supreme distinction in any one branch of learning, so as to become facile princeps—the oracle that was to be consulted in all that related to it. His peculiar excellence consisted, not so much in the colossal dimensions of his faculties, as in their requisite proportions—in the combination of many and divers gifts—the happy balance and admirable symmetry of his mind. Not a few have surpassed him in force of character; and, as respects any one faculty or acquirement, he had equals—he had even superiors. But, in the union which he exhibited of many different talents, in the combination of qualities, any one of which would have conferred distinction on an ordinary man, he has left none, aut similis aut secundus. In early life he became known to the public as the possessor of rare powers of philosophical analysis; subsequently he attracted much attention as a skilful preacher of the Word of righteousness; and more recently, he has been known chiefly in connection with his labours in the Church History Chair. In the Account which he published of the life and writings of his friend, the celebrated metaphysician, Dr Thomas Brown, in his volume “Sermons on Practical Subjects,” and in the “Elements of Church History,” the first volume of which only has yet been given to the world, he has a memorial of his labours and acquirements in each of the departments to which we have referred; and it is difficult to say whether he excelled most as an acute and profound philosopher, as a wise and faithful minister, or as an accurate and erudite historian. All his works, however, bear the impress of a superior mind, and indicate a variety of gifts, which have rarely, if ever, been exhibited in such harmony and perfection in any one individual. He was inquiring and reflective, susceptible of the finest emotions, and diligent in the discharge of all the duties of life. He was familiar with abstract speculations; his penetrating eye could detect a fallacy in the subtlest metaphysics; and his nice discrimination enabled him to resolve the most complex questions. At the same time, his heart overflowed with affection, andthere was not a hand that could more skilfully “open the sacred source of sympathetic tears,” or more tenderly bind up the wounded spirit. It is to be feared, indeed, that injustice was done to him during his life, and that this injustice is to be attributed, in some measure, to the diversity of his great endowments. His faculties were regulated and controlled in their operation by one another. Thus his imagination would have dazzled more, if it had not been checked and chastened by a sound judgment and a pure taste, his philosophical acumen would have become more conspicuous, if it had not been curbed and restrained by his practical sense and his active sympathies. Besides, while men of more contracted minds discovered somethiing in him to admire; while every one, whatever his peculiar gifts might be, found a kindred spirit in him; and while he thus attached to himself many individuals who had little resemblance to one another, there were few who were capable of appreciating his whole merits. On the other hand, there was none, perhaps, in whose judgment greater confidence was reposed. Dr Welsh could not confine himself to a single view of a subject. He could not swayed by any eccentricity or impulse. Every subject behoved to be considered in its diversified bearings; and his judgment was the result of a keen, calm, and comprehensive examination. Hence the prestige of his name was of incalculable value in the recent struggles and final dismemberment of the Church of Scotland.

The remark which has been made regarding his mental conformation applies with equal force to his moral and religious character. It was no distorted or mis-shapen view of the Christian character which was exemplified in him. He grew up into Christ in all things. No protruding excellences attracted notice, to be afterwards marred in their effect by some counterbalancing weakness. Some might appear more devout, only because he was more sincere; or more faithful, because he was more considerate; or more ardent, because he was more intelligent and modest. He was cautious, but decided; gentle, but firm; abhorring strife, but animated by an invincible courage. The rich assemblage of gifts and graces by which he was adorned, rendered him unusually free from prejudice of every description, and less liable than others to self-deception. Hence the transparency of his character, and the uniform consistency of his conduct. In certain respects, it may be thought that he has been surpassed by some; but was there ever any one more free from blame? Who ever gave less offence? His opponents will acknowledge, that no one could differ from them in a better spirit, and that his independence and moral intrepidity were equalled only by his respect for others, and the modesty and fairness with which his views were advanced. Those, again, who knew him. most intimately, and observed him most closely, can scarcely wish that anything should now be undone which ever he did, or that a word should be recalled, which their nemory retains, of all that he uttered.

A sense of duty, an obediential regard to the will of God, was unquestionably the paramount and prevailing feeling of his mind. He was slow to engage iu any undertaking which did not properly belong to him; but whatever he undertook, he faithfully, and to the utmost of his ability, performed. He grudged no exertion, and he spared no sacrifice to acquit himself of his obligations. He never wearied in the work which was given him to do, nor turned aside from his prescribed path to some field of more inviting inquiry, or to some occupation more congenial to his taste. The only approach which he ever made towards severity was, when referring to those who neglected their own unquestionable duty for some object which might seem to them more important, but which did not fall under their peculiar charge. The same sense of responsibility which constrained him to cultivate all his powers, and to embrace every opportunity of doing good, taught him also submission to the will of his heavenly Father. He was careful to profit by all his afflictions, and nothing could be more beautiful or touching than his patience and lowliness during the last months of his life. Before he departed, his soul was truly like a weaned child.

The name of Dr Welsh will ever be associated with the new college, which is about to be erected. Nothing, perhaps, can prove more clearly the influence which he exercised, and the confidence which he had acquired, than the fact that, by means of his quiet and noiseless correspondence, he succeeded, in the course of a few weeks, in obtaining, from twenty individuals, the sum of £21,000, to erect a college, for the benefit of those who had virtually been driven, not only from the Church, but also from the universities established by the State. Alas! alas! how often will his removal be felt and lamented, when his friends and brethren meet to frame a constitution for this college, and when students assemble to draw water from its wells.

In private life, Dr Welsh was one of the most interesting and delightful companions. His affections were warm and his friendships lasting. He had an inexhaustible store of information aud anecdote; and though he never indulged in boisterous mirth, there ran through his conversation a vein of subdued and chastened cheerfulness, which rendered it enlivening, as it was always edifying. His friends could not leave his company without feeling that they had been made wiser and happier in his presence.

Dr Welsh died, as has been intimated, on the 24th of April. His death was not more sudden than it was glorious—a meet termination to his patient continuance in welldoing. On the afternoon of the day above-mentioned, Mrs Welsh and he were sitting together, and she, as was her practice from time to time, was reading to him a portion of Scripture. The passage which at this time she read to him was Isa. 61:10: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” When she had finished reading this passage, he turned it into a prayer, and immediately afterwards expired in his chair, without a struggle.

“Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the latter end of that man is peace.”

The removal of a man of such lofty and cultivated intellect, of such extensive acquirements, of such sincere and disciplined piety, and of such mature experience, would have been felt by the Church, in any circumstances, to be a heavy affliction; but, in the present position of the Free Church, when the qualities in which our revered father more especially excelled are so much required, and when the aspirants to the ministry stand so greatly in need of being guided in their studies, and quickened to aim at high attainments, the death of Dr Welsh must be regarded as a fearful and portentous calamity. The foregoing hasty and unfinished sketch affords a most inadequate view of this master in Israel. But it is our comfort to know that many ministers labouring in the service of our Church are not ignorant of his value; and our prayer is, that they may be followers of him as he was of Christ!

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died December 25, 1892)
Author: Rev. Robert Taylor, Upper Norwood, London
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, March, 1893, Obituary, p.69

In Dr. William Welsh of Mossfennan, Peeblesshire, who passed quietly away on the morning of Christmas day, in the seventy-third year of his age and the fiftieth of his ministry, the Free Church lost one of the most notable and influential of her country pastors. In these times, when one or two changes of sphere have become the rule among our more prominent ministers, one looks with admiration, not untouched by envy, on those who dwell among their own people from fresh youth to ripe age, happy in rendering service in Christ’s name to the lowly, and in receiving in return their grateful esteem and love.

Dr. Welsh’s congregation at Broughton was, in every sense, his own people. He sprang from a stock that had been rooted in the district for many generations. He was born and brought up in the parish; dwelling from childhood, when he lost both father and mother, under the kind care of an unmarried uncle and aunt, in the beautiful home which he inherited in after years. He was the first minister of the congregation, having been ordained over it soon after the Disruption. And in that picturesque region of the upper Tweed, where he spent his life and fulfilled his ministry, the name of William Welsh will live long in the loving remembrance of a quiet and reserved but warm-hearted and devout people—a symbol of all that is true and honourable, just and pure, in the Christian gentleman, and of all that is lovely and of good report in the minister of Christ.

After a thorough early training, first in the Grammar School of Peebles, and afterwards in the High School of Edinburgh, Mr. Welsh entered the university. Though singularly free from the ambition that seeks distinction in prize-lists, the youthful student attracted the notice of the foremost among his compeers, and became an esteemed member of a fellowship which comprised such men as Professors Campbell Fraser and Masson, the late Principal Cairns, and Drs. John Nelson and James Walker. At a somewhat later period Dr. Welsh enjoyed the friendship of Professor Veitch of Glasgow, sharing his enthusiasm for their beautiful and storied Tweed-dale, which the professor, both as poet and historian, has clothed with a charm second only to that which it received at an earlier time from the genius of the great minstrel of the Border. The eminent men whom we have named, and many others who were drawn from time to time to Mossfennan, appreciated and enjoyed the keen insight and fresh originality which their friend and host brought to the discussion of any theme, philosophical or practical, that happened to come up, as well as the clear, incisive, often picturesque, and, on occasion, humorous expression which he gave to his views in this “heart affluence of discursive talk.”

But it is with William Welsh as a good minister of Jesus Christ, and a loyal and faithful son and servant of the Free Church, that we are mainly concerned here. Entering the Divinity Hall when the controversy which issued in the Disruption was growing to white heat, Mr. Welsh came under the spell of the ecclesiastical and evangelical influences so singularly combined in that great movement, and entered on his ministry, as so many did at that wonderful epoch in the religious life of Scotland, fired with a holy zeal for Christ’s gospel and for the freedom and purity of his Church. It was no ordinary proof of his soundness and strength of judgment at that early time that he ventured to differ from his accomplished kinsman, Dr. David Welsh, on the policy of setting up a complete arts course in the Free Church College, and to maintain his view by arguing that the influence of a common university training would be of much value as a counteractive to the narrowing tendency of an intense and exclusive denominationalism. The writer of this notice has heard him refer to this subject more than forty years ago, and to remark with some surprise that a mind so calm and elevated as that of Dr. Welsh should have been disturbed in its judicial balance even by the great upheaval that rent the Church of Scotland in twain, and separated him and Chalmers and others from the national universities they both adorned and revered. But William Welsh remained to the last, as he was at first, a calmly but strongly convinced Free Churchman, although he was much in advance of his time in his power of disengaging his convictions from personal prejudices and denominational antipathies, and of exercising, not only a large tolerance, but a genuine and gentle charity towards those from whom he differed.

But it was as a faithful preacher and pastor, watching over his flock with a shepherd’s love and care, that Dr. Welsh especially shone. By nature devout and reverential, by grace an adoring disciple of the Lord Jesus, it was his constant aim to convey to his hearers the conceptions and emotions that overfilled his own mind and heart. Though his thought was fresh, his spirit fervent, and his words well weighed and weighty, the power of his preaching lay in his own personality. His hearers could not fail to feel that they were listening to a true and genuine man of God, who declared to them what he had seen and heard, and commended to them, for life and death, the truth of which he had made full proof, by the faith of which he lived and was prepared to die. And we are persuaded that the great day will declare the blessed results of his faithful ministry in many a soul won to the Saviour, and that for many a year he, though dead, will continue to speak for the Master whose face he now sees, in the hearts of those who, revering his memory and considering the aim and issue of his life, will try to follow in the footsteps of his faith. The companion and helpmeet of the departed for nearly forty years, brightening his home and sharing and inspiring his ministry, the gifted eldest daughter of one of Scotland’s noblest sons, and the Free Church’s grandest preachers and pastors, Dr. Thomas Guthrie, will have the sympathy and prayers of all who loved and honoured her father and her husband in this time of her sorrow.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died August 16, 1873)
Author: Rev. William Sinclair, Kirkwall
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, February 2, 1874, p.38

Mr. White was born at Strachur, in Argyleshire, in December 1808, of godly parents, from whom he received a religious upbringing; educated at Peebles, to which the family had soon removed, under an able teacher, Mr. James Sloane, who afterwards became his father-in-law; and passed his whole collegiate course in the University of Edinburgh, where he gained many prizes, and was especially distinguished in the departments of mathematics and natural philosophy, and where also he graduated with much approbation. He was licensed by the Presbytery of Dumfries in 1830, ordained to the Parliamentary church of North Ronaldshay in 1837, translated soon after the Disruption to the Free church of Harray, where he ministered to the day of his death. In both parishes he preached a pure and full gospel with great ability and much acceptance. And in both, especially Harray — indeed, throughout Orkney — he has left his mark as a man of superior talent, of great energy and aptitude for business, of a singularly well-balanced mind, most assiduousl in ministerial duties, a wise counsellor, and a firm and faithful friend. Distinguished at college, he kept up his student’s habits, and had accumulated a large and valuable library, in which he revelled with delight. Constrained by his insular position in North Ronaldshay, he studied and practised medicine; and at Harray he continued to give to the people the benefit of his skill; always, however, being careful not to go beyond his knowledge, and to enjoin the calling in a regular practitioner where such could be had. He had observed throughout the mainland practice of scalping and destroying several acres of land in the cultivation of one; and, with the zeal of an Oberlin, he inclosed and cultivated his garden on almost a bare rock, and for many years presented it, fruitful, beautiful, and nourishing, to the admiration and imitation of all. In Church politics he was an ardent reformer; and in the North Isles Presbytery led the van in the way of much-needed purification of discipline and reformation of morals, among both clergy and people. He was thoroughly versed in Church law and Church forms, and made conscience of attending Church courts with unfailing regularity. He was clerk for six years to the North Isles Presbytery, and for about twenty-seven years to the Free Cburch Presbytery of Orkney, the duties of which he discharged so thoroughly to the satisfaction of his brethren that a few years ago they acknowledged it in a suitable testimonial to his merits.

Recently, without any thought of it on his part, he was elected a member and chairman of the Local School Board; but he ever felt that his great business was to win souls to Christ, and to edify his body the Church. Of late years his brethren had observed a gradual breaking up of the strong man, and with that a growing earnestness and fervour in his ministrations. On 10th August he dispensed the communion to his people with much unction and acceptance; and there was peculiar solemnity in his closing address, when, with prophetic anticipation, he intimated that it was not likely they would ever again meet around that table on earth. At the close he intimated household visitation for the week.

But on the Saturday afternoon he left us, to join the general assembly and church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, September 1, 1864, p.607

It was at once a tribute to the individuals, and an indication of the increased attention missions are now exciting, that the sad deaths of Mr. Hislop and Mr. White first became known in this country, not through the medium of private letters, but as items in the telegraphic summary of Indian news sent home for the information of the government, the newspaper press, and the community in general. It is due to the lamented missionary recently deceased that a brief notice of his life and labours should appear in these pages.

Adam White was born at Aberdeen on the 19th of May, 1829. His father was a merchant in that city. After receiving an elementary English education, he passed through the Aberdeen grammar school, of which, at the end of his fifth year, he was declared dux. He graduated with honours at Marischal College. His theological studies were prosecuted for two sessions in the New College at Edinburgh, for one at Aberdeen, and for one at Berlin. During his closing session at Marischal College, he began eagerly to investigate the theological questions of the day, his mind having shortly before undergone that change (the result of the Spirit’s acting), without which, no amount of literary or theological training can qualify one for the all-important work of the ministry. He received license in 1853 from the Free Presbytery of Glasgow. For the next two years he most zealously laboured, under the auspices of his brother-in-law, the Rev. George Philip, of Free Union Church, Glasgow, deeply to lay the foundation of the Home Mission station, which has since developed into the fixed charge known as Chalmers Church. But gradually his mind began to wander more and more towards the benighted East; and at length, on the 29th November, 1855, he was ordained, in the Free West Church of his native city, as missionary to Bombay. Having been united in marriage to a daughter of Mr. Littlejohn, banker in Aberdeen, he sailed on the 4th January, 1856, for the distant country where he was to spend the remainder of his life and to die.

After labouring for a time in Bombay and at Nagpore, doubts with regard to the propriety of infant baptism, which while at home he thought he had laid to rest, returned on him with irresistible force, and ultimately led to a separation between him and the Free Church. Still his missionary colleagues and he saw no reason why they should become alienated in heart, but felt, as before, that they were fellow-labourers, in the same glorious cause. Mr. White’s subsequent career was fitted to deepen the impression which his conscientious course of action had already produced. He resolved still to labour for India, choosing as his appropriate sphere the Mahratta country, the language of which he had already acquired, and used in his Master’s service while resident at Bombay and Nagpore. His headquarters were for some years at Puna, the old Mahratta capital; but afterwards, the hill-fort of Poorundhur, twenty miles from Puna, was found a more convenient centre of operations. Marking out for himself a district of about 1000 square miles in extent, and studded with no fewer than 200 villages and hamlets, he itinerated through every part of it, preaching the word. He generally returned for Sabbath duties to Poorundhur, where also he spent the rainy season, during which he could not have travelled without the utmost risk. With characteristic disinterestedness he forbore accepting salary from any section of the Christian Church, preferring to live on his own private resources, supplemented by the contributions of a few sympathizing friends. While naturally availing himself of opportunities to lay the foundations of a church, native and European, agreeably to the model of ecclesiastical polity which he deemed the most scriptural, he felt the conversion of the heathen to be the great work of his life, and laboured for their benefit with a devotion which could not be surpassed.

While thus engaged, the cholera broke out, as it frequently does, among the pilgrims congregated in masses around the temple of Vithoba, at Pundherpore. Afterwards, when the worshippers began their homeward journey, they carried the disease everywhere. It fell on Sassoor, the chief town of Mr. White’s district, and five miles from Poorundhur, with such destructive violence, that out of a population numbering no more at the beginning than seven or eight thousand, for a whole week as many as twenty-five died daily. It would not have been dishonourable had the missionary for a time forborne to enter the infected town, but, like George Wishart, so distinguished as a martyr of the Scottish Reformation, he believed that, when people were surrounded by deadly pestilence, they would, humanly speaking, be more disposed to listen to the gospel than they had been in prosperous times. Entering then the plague-stricken place with his medicine-chest, he stood among the dying and the dead, ministering to the sick and healing many, while he spoke of the soul’s fatal malady, and of the divine Physician and Saviour from sin. The sequel is soon told. He returned to Poorundhur on Friday, the 13th of May, much exhausted. On Saturday afternoon the symptoms of the fatal disease developed themselves, and, by Monday, he was with the Saviour whom he had so faithfully served. He has left behind him a wife and five children to deplore his loss.

The Times of India, in a very warm and sympathetic notice of the deceased, says:— “Not slain by fanatics, not cut off by those who are supposed to hate a missionary, but a martyr to his own self-devoted love to the bodies and souls of the natives of this country, Adam White, the pure and single-eyed, has passed away to his rest. He has given up his life, as he gave up all he had, to the great cause of India’s regeneration.”

May our own and other evangelical bodies have a constant succession of faithful missionaries like him whom now we mourn! Our Church will not be the least sincere in venerating his memory. Differing from him in lesser matters, it welcomes his testimony to the great fundamental verities of our common faith. It was to his firm hold of these, and not to denominational peculiarities, that the moral triumphs of his life were attributable. “He endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” He “overcame by the blood of the Lamb.” His animating motive was love to Him to whom the ransomed soul feels that all love is due.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died December 29, 1873)
Author: Rev. W. Wilson, D.D., Dundee
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, May 1, 1874, p.104

Mr. White was ordained minister of the parish of Airlie in 1833; and in 1843, along with a goodly number of his congregation, cast in his lot with the Free Church. As in several other rural parishes, great difficulty was experienced in obtaining a site for a church and manse; and Mr. White took up his residence at Kirriemuir, and, for a long period, was exposed to the fatigue of travelling several miles to visit or preach to his congregation, and to the hardship of worshipping with them from Sabbath to Sabbath by the wayside, under the open sky. About three years ago his failing strength unfitted him for his pastoral work; and, on obtaining a colleague, he gave up his manse, and resided in Dundee for the last eighteen months of his life. Throughout the course of his ministry Mr. White continued to be a diligent student; and his extensive and accurate information in many departments of knowledge was recognized and respected wherever he was known. He was a diligent, kindly, and faithful pastor; and his preaching was of a very high order, — direct, solid, practical, and powerful. Over a wide district of country for well-nigh forty years he was an influence for good. And the fruit of his labour remains.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died November 18, 1891)
Author: Rev. J. R. Gillies, Hampstead
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, February, 1892, Obituary, p.45

Mr. Williamson was born at Huntly in 1856. Secluded as it is, Huntly was in those days a religious centre for all Scotland. The gracious atmosphere he breathed from infancy insensibly did its work. He was early and quietly drawn to the Saviour, and grew up with no other ambition than Christ’s service.

Most of his boyhood was spent in Belfast, where his father has laboured with remarkable success. He studied at Queen’s College, and graduated with honours in 1874. At the New College, Edinburgh, he continued his distinguished career. In his second year he took the “Forsyth”; in his third year, the “Hamilton.” In his fourth year he was Hebrew tutor, and was invited to do similar work in Aberdeen, during a vacancy in the college there. Many of his friends believed that he had a good chance of the “Cunningham,” even in an exceptionally strong year. But an offer came—to him irresistibly—of practical work as assistant in the Barclay Church, and was at once accepted. The choice thus made was characteristic of the man, who, like George Herbert, “knew the ways of learning, but declined them for the service of Christ.” He never regretted it. He had the happiest memory of his Barclay work, and of the friendships formed there; while for Dr. Wilson—his “bishop”—he cherished the deepest reverence and love. It was in the Barclay that he first found himself as a preacher. He used to tell with a touch of humour how he had planned a course of lectures on Moses, borrowing largely from latest science to light up the ancient page, and had delivered the first one or two, as he hoped, not without success, when a hint was given from headquarters that perhaps they had had enough of Moses for a time, and would be the better of a little more of the gospel. He cheerfully acquiesced, and took up the Epistle to the Romans, preaching a sermon on the righteousness of faith, which is still spoken of in the Barclay as a “clear and impressive summary of a great gospel truth.” Yet he was naturally dramatic rather than critical or dogmatic in his style. Soon after leaving Edinburgh he married Miss Rochead, daughter of the late J. T. Rochead, Esq., architect, Glasgow, who, with three young children, survives to mourn his loss.

In 1882 he was called to Newburgh, where he laboured for nine happy years. The parish was wide and difficult to work; but he never grudged the work, and was not allowed to miss the reward. Many beyond his own congregation have borne willing and even lavish testimony to the value of his services, and the spiritual impetus which they received from him. The work among the young was a marked feature of his ministry. He had a weekly service for them, latterly attended by three or four hundred children. The subjects— “How to make a Map of the Holy Land;” “A Trip to the Sea of Galilee;” “The Lighthouse;” “A Name above every Name”—were carefully selected, and the treatment was always picturesque and vivid. Nor did he disdain such helps as coloured chalks, writing to his brother merrily of a bold attempt to represent the blue waves of Galilee on a blackboard.

In February 1891 he was translated to Rothesay (West Church), where a bright future seemed to lie before him. He thoroughly appreciated this new start in his work — the lovely surroundings, the larger life of the place, and the call for more varied and in some respects higher work. He was full of plans for usefulness among the invalids, and of course among the young. To them he preached one of his last sermons, taking as his subject the regatta which he had witnessed the previous day from his beautiful study windows. His own race was then nearly run, though he knew it not. And now all is over, and the Church is called to sympathize not only with the widow and children, but with the congregation robbed of such a pastor, after nine months’ experience of his rare and precious gifts.

One thing remarkable in James Williamson was his love of nature. Brought up in the country, he spent all his holidays among the streams and glens of his native land. Fishing was a passion with him. He had his first lessons in the gentle art among the Huntly burns, from Dr. Alexander Whyte—his master in later years in a still gentler craft. Many a night was spent upon a Highland loch, and many a morning, as it broke among the hills that surrounded his much-loved Highland home, found him already rod in hand, as if life had no higher ambition than a good basket.

Though latterly he was too busy to pursue his studies, he was always naturally a student, and had keen sympathy with intellectual pursuits of every sort. With the results of Biblical criticism he was, if not deeply conversant, yet intelligently familiar, and looked on them with a friendly and hopeful eye. He was one of those of whom our Church is happy to possess not a few, who are links between the old Puritan theology and modern scientific methods. The former lay behind him, a prized and perpetual possession, a spiritual home in which his life had its roots. To the latter he stood wedded with all the loyalty and independent strength of a later manhood. But most of all one remembers him for his piety. His eye never glistened so, he was never so eager and animated, as when telling or hearing of some work of grace. Many besides the writer thank God for the quiet hours spent with him in prayer and Bible-study. To the life of prayer he led, and the love that filled his heart to the Master whose service to him was perfect freedom, we may trace his rare attractiveness as a preacher. Without mannerism, scarcely suggesting the thought of unction, he had power to melt the heart as few have had, and drew men to a Christ who was very precious and intensely real to himself. Round the open grave in which he was laid to rest were gathered three generations of his kin—father, brother, son—mourning together the loss of one who had something in common with each: the wisdom of age, the strength of manhood, the purity and brightness of a little child. “Multis ille bonis flebilis occidet, nulli flebilior quam—mihi.”

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died January 20, 1874)
Author: Rev. R. McIndoe, Galston
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, April 1, 1874, p.82

Mr. Willis was the tenth aud youngest son of the late Rev. William Willis, Stirling. He was ordained at Kirkpatrick-Durham in 1845, where he zealously laboured for many years to a valued and attached people. Serious and long-protracted illness laid him aside from the work for which he lived, and in which his soul delighted. He deeply mourned his inability for public labour, but all the more earnestly sought by prayer and supplication the salvation of his beloved people; in his dying hours mentioning many of them by name who had gone before, and with whom he hoped to meet in glory – always, however, at the same time exclaiming, “Oh, the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be the all-engrossing object through eternal ages!”

During the Kilsyth revival he was associated with the Rev. W.C. Burns in the work at that place; and he has left many pleasant memories of his piety and zeal in the West as well as in the South of Scotland. He calmly and sweetly fell asleep in the arms of Jesus, rejoicing in the hope of the glory to be revealed. His widow survives him, but his only child died in infancy at Kirkpatrick-Durham.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page

Principal of Knox College, Toronto

Author: Rev. J.W. Taylor, Flisk and Creich
Source: The Free Church Monthly, January 1, 1880, Biographical Notices, p.17

Dr. Willis was born in Greenock in 1799. His father, Rev. W. Willis, was one of a little band who, in their desire to conserve the principles of the Covenanted Reformation, refused to go into changes which were introduced into the Secession Church in 1795, and who formed the Burgher Associate or Old Light Burgher Synod. In 1802 the Rev. W. Willis was translated to Stirling. There Michael’s educational training began, under his father’s care. His mind was a nimble one, and could readily take in all that was agoing at school. From school he was transferred to the College of Glasgow. In his eighteenth year, his philosophy course finished, he found himself face to face with the first really earnest and perplexing practical question to the youthful mind, What am I to be? What is to be my occupation in life?

He had discovered classical tastes, standing high both in Latin and Greek. Some of his professors were interested in him, and advised him to give himself to scholarship as his lifework. Some years after they offered to support him in a candidature for the professorship of Greek in St. Andrews, which was expected to be vacant. The offer was tempting; but by this time he had chosen what he afterwards felt to be a better and a higher service,—the ministry of the gospel in an obscure denomination.

When licensed, he was chosen to be pastor in a new congregation, which latterly worshipped in Renfield Street, Glasgow. There he gathered a membership, drawn very much by his style of preaching, which differed in many particulars from what prevailed in the denomination.

In 1833 Mr. Willis appeared as an author. The engrossing topic of the day supplied the subject, and the title was, “A Discourse on National Establishments of Christianity.” The scope of the treatise was to illustrate the consistency of National Establishments with the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom, their warrant from the Word of God, and their necessity to the safety of States.

Betwixt the years 1837 and 1839 Dr. Willis and the body to which he belonged were worthily engaged in getting a breach in the Scottish Church healed. They had been joyful observers of the ten years’ conflict,—probably the most memorable ten years in the religious history of the country during the century. They saw that under the double professorship of Chalmers in philosophy and in divinity a revived evangelism had taken possession of the pulpits, and from the pulpits had spread over the parishes of Scotland. The more thoughtful ministers and members asked each other, Is not this the very thing which the first seceders desired? Here we have in the Established Church of Scotland “a free church” and “a faithful church.” The negotiations were not begun by Dr. Willis, but latterly he was appointed Convener of the Committee by whom the business was wisely and successfully concluded.

In 1847 Dr. Willis sailed for Toronto, having been appointed professor of theology in Knox College, of which he afterwards became principal. The duties of his professorship he pursued with great skill and enthusiasm. His labours as a minister in Glasgow formed, in one respect, his highest qualification, for in preaching the gospel, and in his daily pastorate, he saw with a keen eye the Word of God brought into contact with human nature in all its aspects. He was thus equipped as professor both in the theory and practice of divinity.

The following testimony, inter alia, appears in a Minute of the Senate of Knox College after his death,— “The influence exerted by him has entered indelibly into the history of Presbyterianism in Canada.” All the time of his professorship, like masters and professors in medicine, he kept his own ward in the Infirmary, having, in imitation of Dr. Chalmers in the West Port, a mission station in the neighbourhood of Toronto, where he regularly preached every Sabbath. And during the college vacation he was constantly traversing the province, visiting his former students, and preaching as occasion offered in the backwoods, in the villages, or in the city.

In Church courts he in general took no prominent part, unless when some important question of doctrine or administration emerged. Then he came forward, and due deference was willingly paid to his judgment.

In questions affecting the well-being of the community he was ever ready to let his voice be heard. There was not a more strenuous denouncer of slavery; and the “Elgin Settlement Association,” which furnished the home in Canada for emancipated and runaway slaves, found in him one of its heartiest supporters.

It was in 1871 that he resigned his principalship, seeking in private life a quiet sunset for the evening of his days. He chose London for his home, where, or elsewhere, he was ever ready to obey the invitation of any minister who needed help. Occasionally he employed his pen. And what could be more seasonable or better put than his reply to the question, “What is religion? Being Strictures on Dr. Caird’s Sermon.”

There was an air of gladsomeness about him to the last. He never “entered into the grasshopper’s country;” the grasshopper was never a burden to him. His death took place when he was from home. Mrs. Willis—his faithful and beloved companion for forty-two years—and he were travelling in the north, and were sojourning with their relatives, Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Sellar of Aberlour. On the Sabbath he preached twice with all his wonted spirit and life. During the week he was taken ill, and after a few days of acute suffering he passed away on the 19th of August last, in the eighty-first year of his age.

The monumental utterance which he made over the grave of his colleague, the Rev. Dr. Robert Burns, may appropriately be applied to himself— “Father, patriarch, I might say, of Canada Presbyterian Church, rest in thy bed!” We know who said, “He is not dead, but sleepeth.”

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died February 23, 1891)
Author: Rev. A. Rankin, Strathaven
Source: The Free Church Monthly, June, 1891, Obituary, p.181

Mr. Wilson was born at Kilsyth in 1810, and was the youngest but one of eleven children. In early life he had various advantages which would tend to fir him for the office in which he afterwards served the Lord. His parents were eminently pious, and they had the comfort of believing that all their children had given themselves to God. The father was long an elder in the parish church, and was very useful in promoting the religious well-being of the locality. Mr. Wilson was brought up not only in a godly home, but also under the faithful ministry of the Rev. Wm. Burns, “The Pastor of Kilsyth.” He further had intimacy with the two eminent sons of the manse—William, well known for his revival work in this country, and as a missionary in China; and Islay, the late Professor of Church History in the Glasgow Free Church College. He was also highly favoured in being trained in the parish school by the excellent Mr. Salmon, widely known as a superior and successful teacher, and also as an able Free Church minister in Paisley and Barrhead. The religious influences under which Mr. Wilson was thus reared were greatly blessed to him, and led him, while yet young, to be concerned about his soul. His mother used to say that she never knew him tell a lie. After leaving school and being set to work, he was led to look to the Christian ministry as the great business of his life. But great difficulties lay in the way of his accomplishing this object; he, however, bravely overcame them all while, with great determination and diligence, he was preparing for entering the Glasgow University. This at length he did, and as a student he enjoyed the enthusiastic and stirring teaching of the elder Ramsay, Sir D. K. Sandford, and Dr. James Thomson in Latin, Greek, and mathematics. He passed through the Arts course with much credit, proving himself a diligent student, while his conduct was always becoming his religious profession. In the Divinity Hall he listened to the valuable lectures of Dr. MacGill, whose ardent piety, solicitude for the religious welfare of his class, and famed skill in criticising the prescribed discourses, made the training of his students very conducive to their mental and spiritual improvement. At this time he showed great interest in the public questions which were then agitating the Church and the country, and was thus being prepared for the crisis of the Disruption. While attending the Hall, in accordance with the custom of those days, he was teacher of St. Paul’s Parish School.

Mr. Wilson was licensed to preach the gospel in 1840, and soon thereafter he became missionary in Henderson Parish, Kilmarnock, where he laboured for several months. During this time he preached as a candidate in Bridgeton quoad sacra Church, made vacant by the translation of Dr. Fairbairn to Salton. He was put on the short leet along with Mr. Duncan, Kirkintilloch, Mr. Archibald, a minister from Canada, who at the Disruption returned to Scotland and was settled in New Monkland Parish, and Mr. K. Phin, who became so prominent in the Established Church. At the election Mr. Wilson was chosen to be minister.

As the congregation was but recently formed, though it gathered quickly and prospered greatly under Dr. Fairbairn’s ministry, it was not large. But it was in a very healthy state, so that the young minister entered upon his work in most auspicious circumstances. The people were harmonious, and he found himself surrounded by a staff of devoted office-bearers, among whom, conspicuous by his zeal and liberality, was Mr. Clugston, father of the well-known Beatrice Clugston, of the Dunoon Convalescent Homes. Besides the church there had been erected a large school, both buildings being handsome structures, and as Dr. Fairbairn, in his farewell sermon, said with complacency, “there was not a penny of debt on them.” Into this interesting field of labour Mr. Wilson threw himself with ardour, working diligently, and becoming very acceptable to his people.

In an address to them, which he had prepared for the celebration of his jubilee, but did not live to deliver, he said, “When I was ordained in this charge the times were very much disturbed with discussions about non-intrusion of ministers and probable disruption. This state of things continued for two years, during which time our numbers had very considerably increased. Then the Disruption came, and the whole community was moved by that event. Many congregations were widely rent by it, but ours scarcely knew any change. The whole congregation—minister, elders, and members—joined the Free Church, with the exception of three families, and as a Free church we continued to prosper and increase.”

After noticing the decision of the House of Lords in 1849 regarding the possession of the quoad sacra churches, by which the Free Church congregations were driven out of their ecclesiastical buildings, the address proceeds: “That very week a public meeting of the Free Church people was held in the City Hall to consider the situation of the ousted congregations. The hall was crowded in every corner; the meeting was most enthusiastic, and resolved to aid and encourage the various congregations, and advised them to leave the churches without delay. Next Sabbath I intimated that we would meet on the following Sabbath in some place I could not name, but intimation would be given during the week in the public newspapers. I never in all my life felt myself so much in the position of Abraham when called to go out into a land he knew not whither. From this painful state of uncertainty the Lord released us. The Rev. Dr. Edwards (U.P. church) and his office-bearers offered us the use of their church.” This kind and seasonable offer was made use of till the present handsome church was opened by Principal Fairbairn, the former and the first minister of the congregation. In the address it is further said:—

“From that time to this we have continued to meet for the worship of our God with almost undisturbed comfort and peace. For forty years never minister enjoyed more comfort and peace than I did; never did congregation more loyally and cordially harmonize with their minister than this congregation did.”

In the new church Mr. Wilson, as before, laboured with much diligence and acceptance to a large congregation till 1880, when, as he was feeling the infirmities of age, he obtained a colleague. But the appointment was disastrous to the congregation, which was much weakened, and a sore grief to the senior minister. But under the zealous though brief ministry of Mr. Mackenzie, now of Dundee, the congregation began to rally, and the progress then renewed is being continued under the present minister, the Rev. W. M. Rankin. Indeed, with the burden of church debt now removed, with the zealous co-operation of a noble band of office-bearers, and the earnest and harmonious spirit that is pervading its members, we may hope that the congregation will soon regain its former strength and influence. Thus the last years of the good old man were gladdened by the reviving prosperity which he saw in the congregation so dear to him.

After obtaining a colleague, Mr. Wilson did a good deal of work in preaching, and especially in visiting the sick. His last service was an address at the communion table in April of last year. On his way home afterwards he had a paralytic stroke. He wonderfully recovered from this; but some weeks afterwards he had a bilious attack, which gradually developed into jaundice, and then the end came. During his last illness he derived much comfort from the divine promises and the glorious prospects which he had so often set before his people. During a short interval of suffering on the day he died he said to those beside him, “I have been in heaven, and have seen Jesus.”

Mr. Wilson was an earnest and useful preacher. His sermons were carefully prepared with prayer for the help of the Holy Spirit. They set forth fully and clearly the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, and were well fitted to arouse careless sinners and edify believers. In one congregation that he often addressed he was called a solid preacher. The delivery of the gospel message was enhanced by his pleasant voice and attractive manner. He was a diligent pastor: he visited systematically the members of his flock every year; he had always a weekly prayer-meeting and Bible class; no one could be more faithful in attending the sick and dying.

Mr. Wilson was regular in attendance at the Church courts, and had a good knowledge of church law; and being much esteemed by his brethren, he was elected to the clerkship of the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and for thirty years he discharged the duties of the office to the entire satisfaction of the members of Synod.

The congregation having, in the beginning of this year, resolved to celebrate the ministerial jubilee of Mr. Wilson by appropriate services on Sabbath the 8th March, and by a soiree on the Thursday following, he, on January 21st, wrote me asking me to preach on the afternoon of that Sabbath, and requesting me not to occupy more than an hour, as he himself intended to speak afterwards for twenty minutes, and to close the services. On the 4th February he again wrote me desiring me to take the forenoon diet of the jubilee Sabbath, and in his letter he said, “I myself have been very poorly for more than a week with a sore bilious attack, which has these three days developed into a case of jaundice, which as yet shows no symptoms of abatement; but I hope it will pass away ere long.” It, however, did not pass away, but, after several day of intense suffering, it terminated his earthly course on the 23rd February, in the eighty-first year of his age.

Mr. Wilson has left a widow, four sons, and two daughters. Two of the sons are in business in Glasgow, and the other two in the medical profession.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died January 12, 1884)
Author: Rev. James Anderson, Polmont
Source: The Free Church Monthly, April 1, Biographical Notices, p.115

Daniel Wilson was born at West Kilbride, in the Presbytery of Irvine, on the 12th November 1821. He received his education in the school of his native parish, and was a boy twelve years old when the Ten Years’ Conflict began. In the year of the Disruption Mr. Wilson was a young man of twenty-two years, and on that occasion he had no difficulty in making up his mind which side to take. Indeed, his mind had been made up long beforehand. Under the influence of a godly mother, his heart had already been fixed.

Whether he had long intended to study for the ministry previous to the Disruption, or whether that event determined the course of his future life, is not clear. This much we find, that he entered college, studying in Glasgow University during the first two sessions, thereafter proceeding to Edinburgh, where he took his remaining two years in arts at the University and his theological course at the Free Church Hall. I should mention here, in illustration of his mental energy and independence of character, that during the first five years of his studies in Edinburgh he held the office of master of Free St. Mary’s School there; and while supporting himself by his own industry, commanded the esteem and affection on the one hand of parents and children, and on the other of the managers of the school and of the Government inspectors, he being one of the first certificated teachers in Scotland, his diploma being dated 1848.

On finishing his studies at college, Mr. Wilson retired to his native place, where, on the last day of July 1851, he was licensed by the Free Presbytery of Irvine as a preacher of the gospel. The first year and a half of his probationary life was spent in preaching without any fixed appointment. In 1853 he was appointed to the newly-sanctioned station of Dollar, and laboured with so much success there that in two years it was raised to the position of a regular charge, and had a minister ordained in the same year as Mr. Wilson was ordained in Bo’ness—1855.

On the 11th of January of that year Mr. Wilson was ordained minister of the congregation of Bo’ness, and since then has laboured with diligence and success. In the year 1859-60, when the memorable revival in Ireland took place, Mr. Wilson visited that country, and not only witnessed that movement, but took part in the work while there. Returning to Bo’ness, his soul glowing with the fire which had been kindled in Ireland, he began at once to tell what great things he had seen, and the power of God was present to bless. Night after night crowds met to hear of the wonderful works of God. The gospel was preached in the streets and in the church. Many on that occasion professed to have given their hearts to Christ, and of these some remain to this day consistent followers of the Lamb, and some have fallen asleep in Jesus. In the case of others, their goodness proved to be as the “morning cloud and the early dew.” How many can trace their first serious thoughts to words spoken by Mr. Wilson it would be impossible to say. There are many in Bo’ness at this day who bless God for the words of comfort, correction, and strength which they have received through him, both in his public ministrations and in his more private intercourse.

As Clerk of Presbytery his careful exactness was most exemplary—everything in its place and at its proper time—facts, documents, and evidence all to hand, making Presbytery business always simple and pleasant.

Now, all is ended on this side of eternity. Last year he completed his thirty-first visitation of the whole congregation. On October 28th he preached his last sermon. The malady which for years had been secretly at work had begun to show malignant symptoms in the month of July last. Rest from active labour was tried, the congregation kindly giving six months’ rest. With rest was combined change of air, and to this was added the best possible medical advice. But all appeared to fail. On Wednesday, the 9th of January, he paid his final visit to Dr. Grainger Stewart, Edinburgh. He returned home that night tired and exhausted. The following day, towards afternoon, he began to feel drowsy. The day following the stupor became more marked. On Saturday morning, at twenty-five minutes past seven, after a few laboured breathings and a momentary return to apparent consciousness, he rested from his labours.

Mr. Wilson leaves a widow, two sons, and three daughters.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died March 8, 1881)
Author: Rev. Thomas Main, D.D.
Source: The Free Church Monthly, May 2, 1881, Biographical Notices, p.121

Born in Edinburgh on June 21, 1810, nurtured at the University of his native city with a view to the ministry of the gospel, Mr. Wilson received license on July 30, 1834. After labouring for two years as a missionary in the district of St. Leonard’s, he was transferred to Fullarton, Irvine, where he was ordained on December 21, 1837.

Those were the days when, under the inspiration of Chalmers, the church extension enterprise was in full force, overtaking the waste places of the land. The field on which he entered was necessitous. He threw himself, heart and soul, into the service, and speedily succeeded in gathering around him the families of the neighbourhood. Church-going habits were revived; provision was made for the godly upbringing of the young. The whole character of the locality underwent a manifest improvement, adding another to the manifold attestations that “godliness is profitable unto all things, for the life that now is as well as for that which is to come.” Possessed of a joyous temperament, he was always frank and cordial, with a smile on his countenance and words of kindness on his tongue. He was ever ready for deeds of helpfulness.

His ministry was faithful, diligent, and devoted. Earnest in the pulpit, and laborious in the pastorate, he was ever present by the bed of sickness. While enjoying the warm affection of his people, he stood in friendly relations with all the ministry in the town, and was held in high estimation by the whole community.

Standing in the line of the Scottish ministry, he devoted much of his time and influence to advance the education of the common people. His labours in this department were great and manifold, and self-denying, for which his name deserves to be specially remembered. The latest service of his life was in this department. It was while, as a member of the School Board, he was attending an official examination, he was seized with illness, and in a few short hours was called away.

In the Stewarton case, which helped to lead on to the Disruption, the Presbytery of Irvine was called upon to fulfil an important part. When the Presbytery met for the appointment of their commissioners to the Assembly of 1843, what used to be known as the Moderate party refused, in the calling of the roll, to recognize the ministers, quoad sacra, as members of the court. This led to a disruption,—the moderator and clerk moving off along with the minority of the Presbytery. Mr. Dickie, then of Dunlop, was, when they were on the point of doing this, at once appointed moderator, and Mr. Wilson was appointed clerk. This office he continued ever after to hold, and fulfilled it to the satisfaction of all the brethren.

His departure was sudden; but there was a manifest preparation for it. Two years ago he had lost the partner of his life. Two members of his family had recently left for foreign parts, which deeply affected him; he felt he would never see them again. On the last Sabbath of his life he ministered to his people with even more than his wonted energy. The next day he was seized with what turned out to be an affection of the heart, and after a few brief hours he closed a ministry of forty-four years, passing from the sanctuary services of earth to the nobler service of the sanctuary above, leaving behind him a name which will long be held in grateful remembrance.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died February 18, 1899)
Author: Rev. David Miller, M.A., Stranraer
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, September, 1899, p.215

In the churchyard of Foulden, a quiet resting-place of many generations, one is struck by the recurrence on the stones, moss-grown and bleached by the breath of the North Sea, of the name of Wilson. Of this old family, settled in the parish of Chirnside, influencing its quiet history for over three hundred years, came George Wilson, born at Edington Mains, on October 31, 1823. His father died less than a year after his birth, and the management of the farm devolved on the eldest son, John, then little more than a boy. But around Edington and in its neighbourhood hovered the traditions of men who there had made somewhat of a name for themselves as skilled agriculturists, and, in character, as of sterling worth. To these traditions the elder brother remained true, and till his death George never ceased to reverence one who had been almost a father to him, or to feel the charm of the heritage that lay behind him. John Wilson lived to take a prominent place in agriculture and in the work of the church. After his death in 1892 a notice of him appeared in the Monthly from the pen of the late Dr. Goold.

George went in due time to the parish school at Chirnside, and afterwards passed to Edinburgh, first at the High School, then at the University. His studies at the Divinity Hall take us back to the great days and names of Chalmers and Rabbi Duncan—their classes being then held in Queen Street. In 1844 he took a semester at Berlin, and attended the classes of Tholuck and Neander. In school and college days he resided for a time with the late Dr. Gould’s father, and afterwards in the household of the widow of the Rev. Marcus Dods of Belford. Here he met with Mary Frances Dods, her second daughter, who subsequently became his wife.

Mr. Wilson’s student years were thus cast among the stirring times of the Disruption, and his opportunities of study were perhaps more varied than was common at that time. His sympathies from the first were with the Free Church, and he was licensed as a preacher by the Presbytery of Duns and Chirnside—his native presbytery—on January 5, 1847.

In those earlier times of the church’s history much had to be done in providing ordinances in parishes where no Free Church congregation had as yet been formed, and it was a custom—at least in the remoter presbyteries—to arrange for local supply by sending a preacher to work in various places within their bounds. In this way Mr. Wilson served the Presbytery of Stranraer in more than one of its districts, and when in the autumn of 1848 Glenluce congregation was constituted, and in a position to call a settled minister, the choice of the people fell upon him, and he was ordained to his first and only charge on November 30, 1848.

From the first he set himself whole-heartedly to the work of the ministry, and he gave to that work as wide an interpretation and scope as any man could give. His gifts were many, though unobtrusive; his education, as hinted above, was of a liberal tone; and beyond the ordinary qualifications of a minister, he had from his student days a pronounced interest in scientific pursuits, and on that side of things his knowledge was both varied and exact. Quiet as his manner was in preaching, there was in it a refinement and directness and persuasive force that won the interest and attachment of those who listened, and his thoughts and words were always touched with the unmistakable presence of earnestness and spirituality. On the pastoral side of his work this quiet force was only increased. It is often a delicate, never an easy task, to speak to another personally, with sympathy and to purpose, about the great abiding things of the soul: some methods of that can hardly fail to be repulsive. About Mr. Wilson there was a kindliness and wisdom and simplicity of heart that made the most intimate speech of the inmost things in life seem altogether in place, and be of most gracious use. And thus, if many hearts were won to God by his public ministrations, many others were influenced by some personal ministry of word or deed. In the village of Glenluce—in the whole parish and neighbourhood—he was to men in sickness and sorrow, whatever their church connection, a welcome and truly helpful minister of Christ. All his life he was a zealous worker in the cause of temperance.

Reference has been made to Mr. Wilson’s interest in natural science. This dated from his college days, especially in the subject of geology. Finding, on his settlement at Glenluce, that the district was not specially interesting in this department, he turned his attention to the study of archaeology, for which better materials lay around him. He, found unceasing interest in searching the crannogs and other depositories for traces of an earlier age, and accumulated a large collection of flint arrowheads, sculptured stones, and other relics. The more valuable of these he gifted to the museum in Edinburgh, where a case is devoted to them. He read repeated papers of permanent interest to the Antiquarian Society, of which he was a member.

Mr. Wilson’s ministry was a long one, but it was broken in upon, with trying frequency, by times of ill-health and entire cessation of work. In 1861, in 1864, and more than once in later years, it was necessary for him to obtain prolonged leave of absence, and to betake himself for change and rest to more kindly climates than ours. But always at the earliest return of strength he was eager to resume his work. And it says much that, notwithstanding such frequent absence of their minister, his congregation never ceased to increase in their thought and love for him, and in their progress under his care.

In the beginning of the year 1892 a crisis came to him, which he never got over, in the death of his wife. As stated above, Mrs. Wilson was the daughter of the Rev. Marcus Dods of Belford, a sister of our own Professor Dods. In her quiet brightness, in her fine ability, in her genial faith, in her gentle, shrewd, sympathy, she found place with her husband in all his thought and ministry. We all knew how proud he was of her, and how she entered into all his interests and work. But hardly any knew how much she meant to him till her kindly, strong presence was withdrawn. Henceforth life seemed so far crippled, and after three years of work with the association of an assistant, it became necessary to have a colleague appointed, and in the autumn of 1895 Mr. Wilson retired from the active pastorate, and went to reside in Edinburgh. He lived, though with declining strength, to see the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the ministry, and to receive thereupon the congratulations of his congregation and presbytery. But even then the end was near—nearer than it seemed. For the later months of his life he had removed to Laret Burn, St. Boswells, and there, in the early morning of the eighteenth of February, he passed peacefully away. He was buried in the churchyard of Foulden, among his fathers.

His congregation and brethren, and all who were fortunate enough to know him, will always reverence his memory and his work for Christ and the church, and think of him as the type of the older Scotch ministry, now inevitably becoming rare in our changing times. And to all he was a man of singular gentleness and truth, of cultivated mind and kindly heart, of unfailing sympathy and courtesy. By these his work and influence remain.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died 27th March 1873)
Author: Rev. Andrew A. Bonar, Glasgow
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, November 1, 1873, p.236

The Lord removes his servants when and how he sees best. In reference to the mysteriousness of some of these dispensations of Providence, Mr. Wilson one day very happily used the story of Dr. Chalmers’s father, who, when not able to decipher his son’s letters, used to say, “They’ll lie there till he comes, and then he’ll read them to us himself.” Quaint remarks of this sort were characteristic of him. “We shall get no more apples over the garden-wall from Mr. Wilson,” said one on hearing of his death; and there was reference in the words to a recent table-service in which Mr. Wilson had reminded the communicants that “all the foretastes of bliss given to us here were, after all, only a few apples which were hanging over the wall; but what would the garden itself be!”

He was born at Newton-on-Ayr, 4th October 1807; brought up in the congregation of Mr. Stevenson, who wrote on “The Atonement;” and ordained to the ministry in the Reformed Presbyterian Church. For some years he laboured in Dundee in connection with that body, having charge of the Meadowside congregation. He soon gave evidence of his evangelistic tendencies, by engaging in missionary work among the navvies who were employed upon the Perth and Dundee line of railway; and about that time it was remarked that he seemed to receive a new baptism of the Spirit.

“When the vacant Free Church congregation of Abernyte, eight miles from Dundee, heard that he was applying for admission to the Free Church, they kept their eye on him and called him; and the rest of his life was spent in that quiet, pleasant spot, where his labours were soon owned of God. He dealt not in intellectual discussion, but in word and doctrine, applying the truth with quaint originality. His own people were cared for, every one, and ministered to with rare affection and prayerfulness; and, at the same time, other congregations were ever receiving, on fast-days, meetings, on such occasions, the benefit of his ungrudging services. It was on 18th August 1848 that he was inducted at Abernyte.

“Thanks to you for the sermon you did not preach!” he wrote to a neighbouring minister, who had been hindered from coming on the Sabbath evening to preach to the children, forcing him, in consequence, to attempt preaching to the young himself, which he had not yet attempted to do. He found that the Master enabled him to preach to the young when he tried it; and ever afterwards he took special delight in proclaiming the gospel to them. Indeed, his love to children was a singular feature of his character, considering that he was never married; his recreation oftentimes was their compauy at his manse, and never did he seem to let out more of his genial kindliness than when among them. But all his flock were attended to assiduously. He visited regularly sick and healthy; never refusing to go when asked, or where a door was opened, to any case at any hour. His work was his joy. To him Christ’s “yoke” was “easy.”

His brethren whom he assisted, and with some of whom he formed a meeting for conference and prayer which met at regular intervals, will never forget his brotherly, unselfish, unenvious ways. With a good deal of humour, and not a little sagacity, he would at times, in the confidence of friendship, speak of a brother’s peculiarities; but if ever anything approaching to censoriousuess seemed to escape him, he would forthwith try to make it forgotten by some anecdote or incident redounding to the honour of his friend. He was loving and generous to his equals as well as to the poor.

Revival work lay near his heart; he unceasingly prayed for the outpouring of the Spirit, and looked for an answer to his prayers at home and abroad. He was in his element in such meetings as the Perth Conference; and it was there, after addressing the meeting, that he was first taken seriously ill, his illness showing symptoms of some disorder of the heart. And the warm-hearted people of God of various denominations in Dundee, who gathered together to the series of Bible-readings held there shortly before his death, will never forget that he was the very life of their meetings.

He had singular access to the upper classes, as well as to the poor. He was a determined upholder in practice of Total Abstinence. He could reprove the inconsistencies of professing Christians with kindly faithfulness, while he exhibited the “charity that covers a multitude of sins.”

His “letters,” too, were memorable, written in his own characteristic vein. To one he says: “I have not yet been from home; but meditate a Hegira next week.” To another: “I was not with you in the open field; but I was in ambush and out of sight. I am glad you had a royal feast. You seem also to have had a good appetite, which is of great importance; hunger, as a rule, is a sign not only of life, but of health.” To another, in 1872, after the death of one for whom he had great affection: “No death since that of my sister has affected me so much. But we know where she is; and I trust we shall be with her. I trust you shall be able to say you have come to a wealthy place through, fire and water; the place is made wealthy with the experience you have brought out of the furnace.” On another occasion: “These solemn gatherings are like Elijah’s ravens, they always bring meat in their mouths; but sometimes we do not relieve the bird of its burden, and often we take the meat, but do not feed on it.” “I do not know the reason, but I often have most enjoyment in preaching when the audience is small. I suppose I am then most humbled, and God can honour me without danger to myself.”

Sometimes, by a very simple remark, he gave new meaning to a Scripture text, though he did not excel in direct critical exposition. “‘As the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth unto the west, so shall the coming of the Son of man be.’ Notice it is not ‘His coming shall be as the thunder, but as the lightning.’ If it were ‘the thunder’ that would imply considerable warning; but it is ‘the lightning,’ which flashes out on us in a moment. Be ready, then.”

His manner in the pulpit and in prayer was often abrupt; his impressiveness lay in his holy earnestness. There were many conversions under his preaching in various places; and many saints were built up in holiness by his means — by his words and by his walk. There are congregations in Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as Dundee and Perth, that will not soon forget him.

He died at Abernyte, 27th March 1873. He had preached as usual on the preceding Sabbath, and held a district-meeting on Monday evening. The Sabbath before, he had preached at Collace in the evening (it having been the Communion there), and the congregation remarked his message and manner as singularly solemn; so much so, that several said, “It looks like a farewell word.” And so it was.

He lies buried in the old churchyard, his tomb looking down on the scene of his labours, till the Lord return, bringing his reward with him.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died April 3, 1874)
Author: Rev. John Forbes, D.D., Glasgow
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, July 1, 1874, p.125

Mr. Wilson had reached the forty-eighth year of his ministry, and the eighteenth year of the tenure of his office as Clerk of the Presbytery of Glasgow at the period of his decease. From his approved piety, talents, and public position, he was extensively known throughout the west of Scotland, and universally esteemed for his eminently consistent and holy life, his great usefulness as an able minister of the New Testament, and his remarkable gentleness, humility, and courtesy of deportment towards all who came into contact with him, whether in his ministerial capacity, or in connection with Presbytery business. He was educated at the High School and University of Glasgow, in both of which he was distinguished for his diligence; and in the latter he enjoyed the esteem and friendship both of his professors and of his fellow-students, some of whom attained to eminence in future life, such as the late Dr. Gibson of Glasgow, Dr. Andrew King of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Principal Willis of Toronto, between whom and himself there subsisted a very special amount of mutual esteem and friendship in after life. Dr. Willis, now the sole survivor of the group, describes the impressions which he entertained of Mr. Wilson at that early period in the following terms: “His fellow-students held him in the highest respect for his conscientious and successful application to his studies, standing well as a scholar with his teachers and his compeers. For my part, in a large class of a hundred or more, he was one of the five or six to whom I most quickly drew, perceiving in his excellent qualities, both intellectual and moral, what made his friendship well worth cultivating.”

Mr. Wilson was ordained to the office of the holy ministry by the Presbytery of Glasgow, 17th August 1826, at Maryhill, then a comparatively small village, and was settled as pastor to a newly erected charge, being the first, and, at that time, the sole, place of public worship belonging to the locality. Here he greatly endeared himself to his flock by the excellence of his discourses, his unwearied assiduity in pastoral visitation, and the deep interest which he took in promoting the spiritual welfare of the young as well as the old, of the poor as well as the rich. It has been remarked by a friend that few have better filled up the fine sketch of the evangelical pastor and man of God by Cowper, in the poem of “The Task,” than Mr. Wilson, all unconscious as he was of the many amiable and excellent qualities which he possessed to that effect. At the period of the Disruption Mr. Wilson cordially joined in withdrawing from the Establishment, and in adhibiting his name to the Protests and Deed of Demission; being well assured that the step was indispensable to maintain the crown rights of the Redeemer as the sole Head of the Church, and the spiritual rights and privileges of his people. The high esteem in which Mr. Wilson was held by the people of Maryhill and its vicinity was shown in a very gratifying manner by the exertions which they made to retain his services amongst them, and the liberality with which they contributed to the erection of an excellent church, manse, and school-house, which were soon free of debt, and will remain as a memorial of the value which was entertained for him, both personally and as the founder of the Free Church congregation in that place.

Mr. Wilson was unanimously chosen to be Clerk of the Presbytery, upon the resignation of his predecessor, Dr. Gibson, upon being appointed to a professorship in the Free College, Glasgow, and held the office for eighteen years, with great benefit to the Presbytery and credit to himself. During that period the congregations connected with the Presbytery increased in a high ratio, and the duties and responsibility of the Clerk increased in a corresponding manner; but Mr. Wilson was fully equal to the discharge of the latter to the close of his life. Mr. Wilson enjoyed in an eminent degree the esteem, not only of the members of Presbytery, but of his brethren in the ministry connected with the Synod, and of the community at large, for his singularly consistent and pious life, for his ministerial diligence and usefulness, for his talents aud accomplishments, both literary and theological, which qualified him to be an able minister of the New Testament, and to take a useful part in connection with the examination of students upon trial before the Presbytery; as likewise for the singularly courteous and acceptable manner in which he discharged the numerous, varied, and important duties which devolved upon him in connection with Presbytery business. At the ordinary meeting of Presbytery on April 1st he discharged his duties apparently in his usual health, and with his usual accuracy, and went through an amount of business which extended over a sederunt of six hours. Two days afterwards, on the evening of Friday, the 3rd April, he was overtaken with sudden illness about nine o’clock, as he was retiring from a meeting for the improvement and practice of congregational psalmody, which was held in the school-room adjoining the manse. Upon being carried into the manse he rallied a little, and expressed his thanks to those who had assisted him; after which he relapsed into a state of unconsciousness, in which he continued for about two hours, when he calmly expired. His pious and useful life, terminating in a decease so placid and tranquil, suggests as peculiarly applicable to his case the testimony of the Psalmist: “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the latter end of that man is peace” (Ps. 37:37).

Mr. Wilson was married in 1826 to Mary, one of the daughters of the Rev. Dr. John Muir of St. James’s Parish, Glasgow. He had a family of ten children, one of whom, Archibald Stirling, died in infancy, and one at three years of age, Allan Graham. Two promising boys died recently after the Disruption, in the month of July 1843, of scarlet fever, and were buried in the same grave, Robert, aged eight years, and John Muir, aged ten years. Another of his sons, James Gibson, died the 8th June 1865, in his twenty-fifth year: he was M.A., and M.D., and Demonstrator of Anatomy in the University of Glasgow – under Dr. Allan Thomson, by whom he was highly esteemed for his talents, professional attainments, and excellent character. The Presbytery have recorded in their minutes a tribute to the memory of Mr. Wilson substantially the same as the present, in which they have expressed their profound sympathy with Mrs. Wilson and family under the sudden and heavy bereavement they have sustained, and commended them to His sustaining and comforting grace who is a Father to the fatherless, and a Husband to the widow, in his holy habitation. They have also recorded their condolence with his flock and office-bearers, and commended them to the protection and guidance of the Divine Head of the Church, desiring on their behalf that the remembrance of Mr. Wilson’s instructions and example may be so sanctified to them, as that they may find in their experience — “that he being dead yet speaketh.”

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died March 30, 1872)
Author: Rev. Thomas Dymock, M.A., Perth
The Free Church Monthly Record, June 1, 1872, p.124

The grave has closed over another of our Disruption ministers—one who took no prominent part in church courts, or in the discussion of great public and ecclesiastical questions, but whose name has been fragrant for many years in his own locality, and of whom it was said by an eminent minister of our Church (on the occasion of his introducing the present incumbent of Friockheim), “that he would wear a brighter crown in heaven than many who had through life been more before the public and had occupied more exalted positions.”

Mr. Wilson was born of pious parents in the parish of Glassford, Lanarkshire, in the year 1800. He received his early education in the parish school, and entered on his studies at Glasgow College in 1816. Here he went through his whole university course, which was interrupted for some years by serious illness, so that it was not till the 5th of May 1830 that he received license as a preacher from the Presbytery of Lanark. For two or three years he laboured as missionary in Paisley in connection with the congregation of St. George’s (Rev. Dr. Burns); and thereafter in the College parish, Edinburgh, under Dr. Cunningham, for whom, from first to last, he cherished and expressed sentiments of warm affection, profound esteem, and intense admiration. Of Mr. Wilson Dr. Cunningham thought very highly, liking the man, and heartily appreciating his perseverance, zeal, and devotedness in the discharge of his duties, which lay in one of the most densely peopled parts of the Canongate, where dwelt many of the most degraded of the population of Edinburgh. In 1837 Mr. Wilson was elected minister of the new quoad sacra church of Friockheim, Forfarshire, where he continued to work without intermission till health aud strength failed. There he has left his mark. It was a touching scene, not to he forgotten by those who witnessed it, when his ashes were committed to the dust in the Friockheim cemetery on the 4th of April. The whole village seemed in mourning, the shops were shut along the line of the funeral procession, and here and there were groups assembled, thinking mournfully of their sore bereavement, shedding tears, and sorrowing most of all that they would see the face and hear the voice of their loved minister no more. Not a few were there who are to be gems in his crown when he shall “shine as a star in the firmament for ever and ever.”

No one at all acquainted with Mr. Wilson could fail to associate with him the idea of one who was “an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile.” He was a true man, honest, sincere, warm-hearted, despising from his inmost soul everything that savoured of scheming and double-mindedness. His friendship was warm, while he was a man of few words and undemonstrative. His piety, acquired in very early life, was deep while unostentatious. He was shrinking and modest, scarcely doing justice to himself; for with a clear mind, sound judgment, and quick perception, his views were well worth hearing if he had had but the courage publicly to express them. One clerical friend, writing after his decease, says : “College companions and intimate friends for many years, I never knew a more honest, straightforward man than Thomas Wilson; guileless, consistent, and unassuming, it was always a delight to me to come into contact with his good sense, sound views, and sincere piety.” Mr. Wilson’s ministrations were characterised by great simplicity, earnestness, and unction. Few ministers have borne their people more upon their spirits than Mr. Wilson did; he entered into all their cases, and spared no pains in his efforts to do them good. His whole heart was given to the advancement of their best interests. The good seed had long continued to be sown among his highly-favoured flock before any great visible effect appeared. But that his ministry might have a glorious sunset, it pleased his heavenly Master to grant a wonderful time of awakening and reviving from 1868 to 1870. For two years frequent meetings were held by godly catechists in different parts of the district and in the Free Church on occasional week-nights and Sabbath-nights, the effect of which was remarkable. A statement as to this time of grace at Friockheim is embodied in the Report of the Free Church Committee on the State of Religion for 1869. Mr. Wilson presided at all the meetings in the church, and spent much time and strength in dealing with the awakened during the work—about 200 of the people being more or less influenced for good at that time—most of whom, it is believed, continue to live consistently with the profession they then made, and to manifest the power of divine grace. Various brethren he applied to for aid in this work, and to his applications he got ready responses. A friend frequently with him about this period writes: “I shall never forget the evenings I spent with him at that time in his manse at Friockheim, and the delightful Christian fellowship we enjoyed together. What a beautiful spirit of humility he ever exhibited! and how his heart overflowed with gratitude to the God of all grace for the manifest tokens of blessing with which it pleased the Lord to crown his long and faithful ministry!” This was a time of great delight to Mr. Wilson, and he spared neither labour nor money, both which were required in providing for and superintending the work. The anxiety, however, and the excitement and fatigue undergone during these two years were a strain on a physical system which even before this had begun to exhibit symptoms of growing weakness. It soon became needful that a colleague and successor should be provided. To this he generously and disinterestedly at once acceded; and when the Rev. B. Bell, now sole minister, was appointed, Mr. Wilson rejoiced in the peace and unanimity that prevailed amongst the members in connection with the settlement, and still more in the prospect of the continued prosperity of the congregation under the ministry of a young and talented incumbent. Though the Assembly had given Mr. Wilson the manse during his lifetime, yet, considering the want of suitable accommodation for his colleague, he willingly vacated it for his benefit, and retired to a cottage in Carnoustie, where the last six months of his life were passed, and where he died. Frequent slight ailments had considerably weakened him; but on the 20th of March he had a severe stroke of paralysis, depriving him entirely of the use of his right side, and nearly taking from him the power of speech. His intimate friends had noticed a great growth of grace in him for some years back. Eternity was scarcely ever out of his view, and the preciousness of Jesus he was more and more fully realizing. A fortnight before he was prostrated he spoke of heaven to the writer of this notice, whose friendship with him had been close and uninterrupted for forty years—at the same time calmly and composedly entering into details connected with his own burial, expressing a wish to be laid where the field of his work had been. After the stroke he never rallied, but lay placidly waiting his change, his eye expressive of the peace and hope that reigned within, and joining earnestly in the prayers which friends poured out beside his couch. Two or three short words were distinctly heard before his spirit took its flight to the mansions above, but these short words expressed much— “All is well!”

“Servant of God, well done!
Rest from thy loved employ;
The battle fought, the victory won,
Enter thy Master’s Joy.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died April 1894)
Author: Rev. Alexander Urquhart, Old Deer
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, September, 1894, Obituary, p.215

Mr. Wilson was born at Cadder, Lanarkshire, in 1810. After studying in Glasgow, he was licensed by the presbytery of that city in 1846. In 1849 he was ordained at Longside, and he died in Aberdeen in the spring of the present year.

Mr. Wilson’s father was an agriculturist, and up to manhood he himself assisted in the work of the farm. During and after his university course he devoted himself to teaching, chiefly in the city of Glasgow. He was teacher first in St. James’s, and then at the Bridgegate school.

At the Disruption he espoused the cause of the Free Church, and after receiving license he acquired experience in several spheres, assisting for a time the aged minister of Banff, supplying the vacant congregation of Sanday, in Orkney, and consolidating a station at Gamrie.

His ministry at Longside, extending over forty years, was remarkable for the confidence of the people in him, and the esteem in which he was held by all sections of the community. Perhaps the outstanding feature of his character was his affectionateness exhibited towards all ages, from infancy to hoary hairs. His power and success in the ministry lay, as was said of the late Rev. Mr. Harrison, “not so much in his teaching and preaching gifts as in himself, in his own personal goodness, and in his own personal dealing with the individual.” His visit was felt to be that of a friend, and in time of affliction he showed himself full of tender sympathy both in his words to the tried and in his prayers for them.

He was painstaking and assiduous in preparing for the pulpit, not serving the Lord with that which cost him nought. He was equally distinguished for the care with which he dealt with young communicants, in which department of labour he is believed to have been especially successful. His labours in visiting were by no means confined to the members of his own congregation, the sick and the aged in and around the village looking for his ministrations as a matter of course.

As a member of presbytery he was much esteemed by all his brethren, and his kindly bearing towards the younger members was a marked feature of his intercourse with them. Able for a little work almost up to the end, at a ripe old age he was borne to the grave, having enjoyed throughout his whole course the respect and affection of both the community and his brethren in the ministry.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died September 20, 1875)

Author: Rev. D.D. Bannerman, M.A.

The Free Church Monthly December 1, 1875, p.300

Mr. Wilson died in the prime of life. In him the Church has lost one who had done much good service to the cause of Christ, and who was fitted by special gifts and acquirements to do much more, and that of a kind peculiarly needed in our days, had God seen meet to spare him to us.

Trained at the Grammar School of Aberdeen, under the famous rectorship of Melvin, Mr. Wilson took high honours at King’s College. His ripe and thorough scholarship, keen classical enthusiasm, and the general tone of academic culture which so characterized him in after years, sufficiently showed the influence of those early teachers, of whom he always spoke with peculiar love and reverence. His school and college friends unite in testifying to the remarkable combination in him of social qualities and warmth of heart, with steady industry, high Christian principle, and strong and fine intellectual powers. “There was not one in all our circle,” an old class-fellow writes from London, “who was more thoroughly respected than he.”

The full tide of Disruption enthusiasm was sweeping over Scotland when he studied at Aberdeen. Brought early, as is believed, under the power of divine truth, and peculiarly open by nature to every noble and generous impulse, he gave himself with his whole heart and mind to the work of the ministry in the Free Church. “He has been one of our most distinguished students,” Principal Cunningham wrote of him when leaving the New College of Edinburgh in 1853. He was ordained at Monkton, Ayrshire, in 1855, and laboured there faithfully and zealously for nine years, drawing forth the affections of his people, especially of the more educated and intelligent among them, in no ordinary degree. On the first Sabbath of October 1861 he was introduced to his second charge at Musselburgh by an old and valued friend — the Rev. James Moir of Maybole. Eleven years afterwards, at Musselburgh, on the same Sabbath of October, the same minister preached his funeral sermon.

Mr. Wilson’s pulpit ministrations were of a high order — evangelical in the truest sense of the word, and always the fruit of the most careful study, erring, if at all, on the side of elaboration. His gifts and faithfulness as a preacher and pastor, joined with his singularly lofty moral and spiritual tone of character and unblemished consistency of life, gave him much personal influence for good, particularly over minds of some education and culture. A natural reserve in speaking of things on which he felt strongly, and a certain gentle courtesy of manner in the ordinary intercourse of society, often hid from careless observers the real depth of feeling and the vigour and shrewdness of mind — not without considerable though carefully guarded powers of sarcasm — which characterized him. His knowledge of Church law, sound judgment, and talent for affairs, led to his being appointed to the office of Presbytery Clerk shortly after his settlement at Musselburgh. His brethren of the Presbytery feel more and more the loss of his genial fellowship and efficient help in counsel and action. Busy as he was, he found time for literary work. His little book on the “Heroines of the Household,” his “Popular Preachers of the Ancient Church,” his “Practical Commentary on Second Peter,” and his admirable translation of the works of Clement of Alexandria, in Clark’s series of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, give evidence of what those who knew him best were justified in expecting from him.

Mr. Wilson passed away after a long and trying illness, borne with great patience and cheerfulness. His calm and steadfast faith in the Saviour, and his characteristic truthfulness of spirit, were strikingly brought out in some of his last utterances. He has left a widow and a large family to inherit an honoured name, and to claim the promises of Him who has said — “I will be a Husband to the widow, and a Father to the fatherless;” “The children of my servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before me.”

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


Author: Rev. R. G. Balfour, New North, Edinburgh
Source: The Free Church Monthly, March, 1888, p.70

A peculiar interest gathers round the departure of Dr. William Wilson, for he was the last survivor of that remarkable band of ecclesiastical leaders whom God raised up to pilot our Church through the deep waters of the “Ten Years’ Conflict” and to shape its course and policy in the years that followed. Each of these men possessed such a unique individuality of character that their identity of view and harmony of action on all great questions was the more wonderful. Chalmers, Cunningham, Candlish, Guthrie, Buchanan, Wilson, how different they were from one another, and yet how nobly they worked together for the welfare of the Church they loved so well!

Dr. Wilson was born at Westruther on 15th June 1808. One can easily believe those who tell us that as a boy he was an eager and successful scholar; but, remembering his portly presence, his grave and reverend aspect, it is difficult to realize that he was then lank and lithe, a leader among his comrades in all athletic sports. It may have been owing to this that in after life he went through an amount of labour under which most men would have broken down, and retained so much bodily and mental vigour to a good old age. He was a diligent and distinguished student at the Edinburgh University, where John Laird, now the much-esteemed senior pastor of the Free Church at Cupar, was his most intimate companion. It is interesting to know that, besides sharpening each other’s mental powers by discussing knotty philosophical questions, they developed their physical powers by athletic exercises, in which young Wilson excelled. At the Divinity Hall he enjoyed the privilege of sitting at the feet of Dr. Chalmers, whose evangelical enthusiasm he thoroughly imbibed, though far too independent to be an imitator of his style or delivery. He was a member of the Exegetical Society, along with Robert McCheyne, Horace and Andrew Bonar, Alexander Somerville, and Henry Moncreiff, so that it is evident that he had thus early taken up the position which he held ever after in the front rank of the supporters of earnest spiritual religion.

He was licensed by the Presbytery of Lauder in 1833. In those days of patronage the ablest candidates for the ministry had often to pass through a tedious period of probation. It is not surprising, therefore, that four years elapsed before his ordination at Carmylie. These were not, however, years of idleness. He was engaged in Glasgow as a parochial missionary on the south side of the river, and during part of the time was also editor of the Scottish Guardian, then the only organ of the Evangelical party in the Church. As this was published twice a week, and had a hard battle to fight with many powerful adversaries, the position of editor must have been no sinecure; yet, hard as the work was, it was good training for the conflict he had afterwards to wage with the lords and lairds and Moderates of Forfarshire. It was work which could not fail to deepen his conviction of the vital character of the interests at stake, and to teach him how to bring out the strong points of the Evangelical position and to refute the plausibilities of his opponents. An interesting and characteristic reminiscence of this period was given by Dr. Wilson himself at the celebration of his jubilee in September last. Speaking of his connection with the Scottish Guardian, he said: “I conducted that paper while acting as a home missionary during 1836, and on to 1837. It may easily be understood that the double work exposed me to a deal of labour and difficulty. The paper was published twice a week, on Monday and Thursday. On Monday mornings I had always to be in the office by three o’clock. I remember one occasion when I was unexpectedly called upon to officiate for the minister of Gorbals. Getting notice on Saturday evening, I began to write, and finished two sermons before nine o’clock on Sabbath morning. I speak of this not as a matter of boasting—far from it. I don’t know if the sermons still survive, but they were fully written out, and delivered as they were written.” This incident illustrates Dr. Wilson’s high sense of duty—he would not go to the pulpit imperfectly prepared; his indomitable perseverance—for he sat down doggedly to his work and finished it that night; and a power of abstraction and command of his faculties that very few possess. This power of abstraction stood him in good stead at a later period, when, with a large family and a small house, he had to write his sermons with all his children playing round him.

In 1837 he was settled in Carmylie, and it was soon felt by that quiet country parish that in their new minister they had a man of quite exceptional power. His preaching was of that closely reasoned order that suits the genius of the Scottish people. It was rich in scriptural allusion, pervaded by evangelical unction, with passages of great literary beauty and short forceful sentences frequently interspersed. And although the manner of delivery was calm, it was never cold. The speaker was always in full sympathy with his theme, and at times the suppressed emotion would betray itself in a tremulous quiver of the voice that sent a thrill through the most unimpassioned hearer. When the Disruption came, pastor and people were alike prepared for the crisis. And it was well that they were, for they had hardships of no ordinary kind to endure. The whole influence of the lordly proprietor of the soil was against them. A site was absolutely refused. The congregation had to worship sometimes in the open air, sometimes in a tent, sometimes in a barn, sometimes in a temporary wooden structure, while the minister was compelled to live at a distance of six miles from the scene of his labours. And besides all this, it soon became evident that, as leases ran out, the members of the Free Church would be quietly got rid of. A man of less spirit than Dr. Wilson might have retired before such opposition by accepting one of the many invitations addressed to him from various quarters. Instead of that he held his ground, and fought the battle with such bravery and discretion that in 1845 proprietor and factor both came to terms, and a suitable site for church and manse was obtained.

In 1848 he was called to Mariners’ Church, Dundee, then a small congregation worshipping in a poor building. By his able and attractive preaching he soon gathered round him a large, intelligent, and influential congregation, which built as their place of worship Free St. Paul’s, one of the finest churches in Dundee. In that town Dr. Wilson exercised his ministry for nearly thirty years, and, though resident in Edinburgh during the last ten years of his life, he was still known as “Dr. Wilson of Dundee.” He took at once the leading place, both in the pulpit and in the courts of the Church, and was a great power on the side of the Free Church both in the way of counsel and impulse throughout all Forfarshire. He was appointed Clerk to the Synod immediately after the Disruption, and to the Presbytery soon after his translation to Dundee. But his influence extended far beyond the bounds of the Presbytery and Synod. He was constantly consulted by the leaders of the Church in Edinburgh, took a prominent part in the business of its committees, and was so often engaged in deputation work that no man had a better knowledge of all our congregations than he. And he was no mere ecclesiastic, though in that department he was almost unrivalled, for he took a deep interest in every social movement and every benevolent institution in Dundee. His judgment was so sound, his character so much respected, and his influence so great, that his advice and assistance were always sought, and, even in his busiest days, generously given.

In consequence of his general business capacity and his special interest in Home Mission work Dr. Wilson was in 1863 appointed Convener of our Home Mission Committee, an office which he held with great advantage to the Church for a period of ten years. In 1866 he was Moderator of the General Assembly; in 1868 he was elected to the office of Junior Principal Clerk; and in 1870 the degree of D.D. was conferred upon him by the University of Edinburgh. In 1877 he was appointed Secretary and Joint-Convener of the Sustentation Fund Committee, which led to his leaving Dundee and taking up his residence in Edinburgh. At that time, as well as on the occasion of his reaching the jubilee of his ministry last September, he received very gratifying tokens of the high esteem in which he was held by the whole community for whose good he had so long laboured.

For the last year or two his strength had been gradually failing. He met with one or two accidents that would have been serious even in the case of a younger man. Still, with his strong, resolute will, and his intense devotion to duty, he laboured on in the Church’s service till he could work no longer. On the 10th of November last he announced to the Sustentation Fund Committee his intention of resigning the Convenership and Secretaryship at next Assembly. The day following, instead of being able to make a similar announcement to the Commission of Assembly, as he had intended, he had to return from the office to a bed of suffering, which proved, after an interval of two months, to be a bed of death. The complaint under which he laboured was subdued, but his strength was exhausted, and, full of years and honours, he passed peacefully away on the 14th of January, having served his generation by the will of God. The funeral at Dundee was a very solemn and touching scene, the flags half-mast high on the ships in the harbour and the tower of the Steeple Church, the tolling of the city bells, the large attendance of mourners in Free St. Paul’s, the crowds that lined the streets, and the goodly company that stood with uncovered heads to see the body laid in its last resting-place in the Western Cemetery, all told that a good and a great man had passed away. Perhaps the most outstanding feature in Dr. Wilson was his marvellous capacity for getting through work and doing it well. He was an admirable preacher, preparing, as a rule, two able and impressive discourses every week. The love shown to him by his people is an evidence that his more strictly pastoral duties were not neglected. He was ever happy to help his brethren, and ever at the call of the Church for public work. He kept the minutes of two of her courts, and was constant in attendance at her committees. His engagements in Dundee were miscellaneous and manifold. Yet amid all these labours he wrote a good deal for the press. Much of this was of a fugitive kind, in newspapers and periodicals. But he published two volumes of sermons, one on “The Kingdom of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” and the other on “Christ Setting His Face Towards Jerusalem.” He contributed a very powerful lecture to a series on the Evidences of Christianity, published in Dundee. And after his removal to Edinburgh he wrote, at the request of Dr. Candlish’s family, a memoir of his loved and lamented friend. Such an amount and variety of work he could never have overtaken had he not formed the twofold habit of early rising and methodical arrangement of his time.

Dr. Wilson was a man who held firmly by the great essentials of Protestant theology. But he had a mind ever open to receive fresh light, and even to old age he showed a readiness to adapt his position on minor matters to what he believed to be the leadings of Providence and the exigencies of the times. His conservative instincts found expression in the way in which he dealt with the cases of Mr. Knight and Professor Robertson Smith, while his progressive tendencies were shown in the altered attitude of his later years on the question of Disestablishment, the use of hymns, and instrumental aids in worship. He did not often speak in the General Assembly, and when he did his words were few. But his terse, emphatic, well-weighed utterances were full of authority. Few were bold enough to dispute his decisions on points of order. In private life, too, he was taciturn and reserved, though when skilfully drawn out he could pour forth a wealth of interesting reminiscence, stored up in a singularly retentive memory. To those who knew him slightly he may have appeared cold and hard, but on better acquaintance he was found to have a warm and tender heart hidden under an extreme shyness, which, with all his experience of public life, he was never able to throw off. Yet those who knew him at all intimately will never forget his warm greeting, his kindly smile, the firm, friendly grasp of his hand, and the patience with which he listened to any matter submitted to him for judgment, entering into the case as if it were his own, and penetrating to the heart of it with his quick, decisive insight.

It may be truly said that the Free Church had no more loyal and devoted member than Dr. Wilson, none who would have done more or suffered more for her sake. We are the poorer this day for losing him, though our prevailing feeling should be one of thankfulness to God that he was spared to us so long. Let our prayer to the Lord of the harvest be that he would raise up younger men, baptized with a double portion of his spirit, to do the work of the days that are coming as faithfully as he did his work in the days that are past.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died May 8, 1892)
Author: Rev. P. G. Balfour, Larbert
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, August, 1892, Obituary, p.202

James Winter was born in the Free Church manse, Dyke, on 18th March 1862. He was one of a family of four, two brothers and two sisters, the younger of whom was twin with himself. Bereft in infancy of his mother, he owed much to the motherlike devotion of an aunt, whom he always held in most tender and dutiful regard. He received his early schooling at Forres Academy. While still young he was for some years disabled by an injury to his foot, but he was probably more than compensated for any disadvantage by home tuition and by insight and sympathy gained thus early in the school of suffering. Relieved by an operation, he went for two sessions to George Watson’s College, Edinburgh, and thereafter took his first year in Arts at St. Andrews University, his father’s alma mater. It was then he decided to study for the ministry, and having completed his Arts curriculum and graduated at Edinburgh, he passed through the New College, and was licensed by Forres Presbytery in June 1887. During his student days, and even as a probationer, he was a prominent member of several University Societies, and acquired there a varied knowledge of men and things, ready tact, and incisive use of tongue and pen.

In the summer of 1884 he laboured as student missionary at Kingscavil and Linlithgow, under Rev. A. Mitchell. After license he was, for short periods, assistant to the late Rev. Edward Thomson of St. Stephen’s, locum tenens at Port-William and South Monifieth, and in the end of 1888 he was appointed to assist Rev. George Davidson of St. Mary’s, with whom he remained for nearly three years.

He then accepted a unanimous call from the Bower congregation, and was ordained to that charge on 26th November 1891. He threw himself into his work with characteristic energy, but within six months what promised to be a most successful pastorate was brought to a premature and melancholy close. Late on the evening of Sabbath, 8th May, as he returned from preaching in a remote part of the parish, he was thrown from his horse, and early the next morning was found dead on the roadside about a mile from the manse.

On the following Friday, amid affecting tokens of respect and grief, his body was borne on the shoulders of office-bearers and members, and laid in the quiet churchyard of Bower.

The news of his tragic death shot a pang through the hearts of many, and the event was invested with a more painful pathos by the fact that in less than a month he was to have been married. He is deeply mourned by a wide circle of friends, and the tenderest sympathy is felt for those most nearly related to him, especially for his honoured father, and for her whose heart has been so sorely crushed, and on whose young life so grievous a blight has fallen.

The record of his brief ministerial career is one of worthy performance and of bright promise, now, alas! never to be fulfilled on earth. A loyal and obliging’ coadjutor, in every subordinate sphere he discharged his duties with high credit, and made the singular fascination of his character felt. He was peculiarly happy in St. Mary’s, and Mr. Davidson, who had the best opportunities for judging, has spoken in the highest terms of the charm and ability of his preaching, and of his self-denying and unostentatious services to those in distress. In his own parish his memory will long be fondly cherished. In the few months that were given him he had established his reputation in the county as a preacher of no ordinary mark, had won the confidence and the hearts of his people, and some had learned to entertain for him not only the respect due to the minister but love as for a brother. His character was unique and cannot briefly be described. The garb of merely conventional proprieties did not sit quite easily upon him, and at times he provoked the criticism of the rigid; but to others it was a relief to find a divine so refreshingly human, and his friends loved him for his warm responsive nature. He lived intensely, was always alive to the finger-tips, never self-absorbed, had a ready humour and an unfailing fund of racy anecdote and remark, and one could not wish for a more genial companion.

His was a sunny spirit; but though his own troubles lay lightly upon him, he felt the sadness of life, and had a vein of deep seriousness. His intellect was fresh and acute, and he never handled a subject without setting it in some new and striking light. Humanitarian rather than theological in his bent, he took a keen interest in social questions.

He had great possibilities; but it is futile to lament over what might have been. One is tempted to exclaim, “To what purpose is this waste?” But he did his part, and his labour is not in vain in the Lord.

“No work begun shall ever pause for death.”

A lovable presence, he walked beside us here for a little. The night of grief is ours. He awaits us in the eternal day.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


Author: Rev. Norman L. Walker, Dysart
Source: The Free Church Monthly, July 1, 1882, Brief Biographies, p.210

The Synod of Fife will sorely miss from its meetings the familiar and commanding figure of Walter Wood. No man within the bounds could be more confidently depended upon to be present when any business required to be done, and to no one did we all look up with greater respect and affection.
Mr. Wood did not readily attract strangers. His bearing gave to those who met him for the first time an impression of coldness and hauteur; and I may as well confess frankly that during the early years of our intercourse I could not get over a feeling of decided prejudice against him.

But when I came to know him intimately, and found under a distant manner a most kindly and gentle nature, a humility, too, which was almost touching, and a readiness to oblige which made him unwilling to refuse any service that was asked, I received a new and impressive illustration of the fact that we may often make most serious mistakes in judging of men “by the outward appearance.”

He was born in 1812 at Dundee, where his father was then practising as a physician. Dr. Wood, however, by-and-by removed to Edinburgh, and it was there, first at the Academy and then at the University, that Walter received his education.

It is sometimes said of these notices that they describe quite a galaxy of Augustines. It is natural to speak well of the dead, and allowance must be made for the extravagance of friendship. But it is no doubt likely enough that some of our more critical readers smile to themselves sometimes when they see how very many remarkable men we have had among us. I would remember this when speaking of Walter Wood. It is strictly and soberly true, however, that at school and college he had a most distinguished career. He came out of the Edinburgh Academy as second dux, the successful competitor (Sheriff Gordon) beating him in classics only. He was gold medalist in natural philosophy at the University. And all through his course as an undergraduate, and in the Hall, he occupied a foremost place. It was his happiness to be a student under Chalmers, and to have as his associates the Bonars, Macdonald, and McCheyne; and when he entered on active work as a preacher, it was as an enthusiastic Evangelical.

After acting for a short time as assistant, first to Henry Grey and then to Dr. Hanna, he was settled as parish minister in Westruther in 1838, and there the Disruption found him. He joined the Free Church without hesitation, and from the date of its organization to his death he served it with a loyalty and a devotion which it is animating to remember.

What troubles he had as an outgoing minister is told in Mr. Brown’s ”Annals.” But he did not confine his labours to his own parish. To his efforts the Church owed much for its early successes in Berwickshire.

In 1845 he was translated to Elie, with which he had a family connection; and there, in spite of all temptations to move, he continued to the close of his life.

How he spent these last years is pretty well known to many. Before all things he was a Churchman; and in every ecclesiastical movement of the time he took a more or less active interest. A ready speaker, he very soon took a prominent part in the conduct of affairs in Church courts. His knowledge of church law led to his being widely consulted. And for a very long time he was looked up to as the indisputable leader of the Synod in which he lived.

But he was no mere ecclesiastic. He was a most earnest preacher of the gospel and a most diligent pastor. He had, too, a splendid library, and made noble use of it. Unhappily he has left no published work behind which shows fully his learning and scholarship. His contributions to periodicals, his “Last Things,” and his “East Neuk,” prove in their way how varied were his accomplishments. He was capable, however, of doing greater things; and now that he has gone, we can only regret that so far his life has not fulfilled its promise.

Perhaps we may in a parenthesis express our surprise that such a man was allowed to live and die within hail of St. Andrews without the college authorities there entertaining the idea that they might conceivably honour themselves by conferring upon him an academic distinction. Sure we are of this, that if Walter Wood had happened to belong to the Established Church, his claims to recognition would not have remained so unacknowledged.

It is impossible, within so brief a compass as this, to say anything like all that we would like to say of our departed friend. We shall only add, that the news of the sudden removal of one so devout, so able, so cultivated, so kindly, so necessary, came upon many of us like the tidings of a catastrophe. But— “the Lord reigneth.”

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died January 8, 1893)
Author: Robert Kirk, Tullibody
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, April, 1893, Obituary, p.95

Mr. Wright was a native of the parish of Kilmadock, Perthshire, and received his early education at the Parish School of Doune. Afterwards, with a view to entering the ministry, he attended both the Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities, finishing his theological training under Dr. Taylor, Perth.

When he had taken license, he received and accepted a call to the “Auld Licht” Kirk of Alloa, which, after having joined the Establishment for a short time, threw in its lot with the Free Church in 1843.

He was ordained on 24th August 1830, being then several months under age. He looked a mere stripling among the fathers and brethren. One, still living, who was present, says that his appearance on the occasion forcibly reminded her of the description of David given in 1 Sam. 16:12: “Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to.”

When Mr. Wright came to Alloa the congregation was small, but by his high qualities as a preacher, and his dutiful attention to pastoral work, he soon brought together a large and devoted congregation. He felt deeply the responsibilities of the ministry, and devoted the talents with which God had so liberally endowed him to discharge them faithfully. In more ways than one he proved himself an able minister of the New Testament—a workman not needing to be ashamed. An accomplished scholar and theologian, he was a student all his life. He was usually in his study at five o’clock in the morning, liking, as he expressed it, to have a forenoon before breakfast. He studied the Scriptures in their original languages, and almost to the close of his life began the day with a chapter of the Hebrew Bible. He had a great admiration of such Puritan divines as Owen, and Knox, and Goodwin, and described a perusal of the last writer’s work on the Spirit as wading up to the knees in clover.

While the spiritual and temporal welfare of his congregation held the first place in his heart, Mr. Wright found time for other work, and took a real practical interest in whatever contributed to the general well-being of the community. His lectures on the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and other subjects, to the Young Men’s Christian Association, were much valued by the members, who showed their appreciation by presenting him with a marble timepiece, this being only one of many tangible proofs of the high esteem in which he was held during his residence in Alloa.

Mr. Wright was a broad-minded, liberal, evangelical minister, and during his long ministry was looked up to by the entire community as a man of deep personal piety, high gentlemanly instincts, and steady devotion to duty. He was noted for a spirit of catholicity, and while loyal and steadfast to his own Church and creed, he numbered among his personal friends men of all creeds and denominations, and was on friendly terms with the then Roman Catholic priest of Alloa, now Canon Donlevy of Edinburgh.

Mr. Wright did not take any prominent part in the business of the presbytery, but when duty called he did not hesitate, and was always listened to with respect by his brethren, who looked up to him as a man of fearless integrity, who scorned anything mean or equivocating. Since Dr. Beith’s death he was the father of the Stirling Presbytery, and the last of its original or Disruption members.

In 1875 Mr. Wright retired from the active duties of the pastorate, but retained his status in the presbytery as minister-emeritus of the congregation, and was succeeded by the Rev. James Wallace (now of Dowanvale, Partick) as colleague and successor. Since then Mr. Wright has lived in retirement, and during the last few years of his life was almost a confirmed invalid, being dutifully and tenderly nursed by his daughter, Miss Wright, the only member of his family in this country, and who is well known in literary circles under the nom de plume of “Elizabeth Stirling.” But even from his couch he was still ministering. A friend who was privileged to see much of him in these later years was wont to say that he felt as if he were on holy ground in the presence of such abiding peace and serene faith. Even workmen coming to the house seemed to feel his saintly influence, one in particular saying to his daughter, “May I go near and just take his hand?” as if blessing were to be obtained from touching him.

At last death relieved him from all earthly pain and infirmity, and on the second Sabbath of the year his spirit winged its flight to the mansions above.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died July 23rd, 1872)
Author: Rev. John Thomson, Prestonkirk
The Free Church Monthly Record, October 1, 1872, p.213

Mr. John W. Wright, minister of the Free Church of St. John’s, Haddington, died at Dunoon on the 23rd of July last, in the sixty-third year of his age. He was a native of Glasgow, but spent his earlier years in Dunblane, where he was educated in the parish school. He received his college education in Glasgow, and took the degree of M.A. in 1832. He attended the divinity hall, partly in Glasgow, and partly in Edinburgh, and was licensed by the Presbytery of Dunblane. Shortly after that he became assistant to the late Rev. James Clason, in the parish church of Ratho, where his services were highly appreciated. Mr. Clason being partially restored to health in 1839, Mr. Wright’s services were no longer required there, and he was called in 1839 to be minister of the newly-erected quoad sacra church of St. John’s in Haddington. Under his ministry the church was soon filled by a large and respectable congregation, having in its membership many of the best people in Haddington. At the Disruption he cordially, and with all his heart, joined the protesting party, and continued faithful to his principles till his death. He took his full share in all the extra work in preaching and otherwise that was required at that period. He continued to occupy the quoad sacra church for several years after the Disruption, when it was taken possession of by the Establishment, and has stood empty ever since. A new and handsome church was built by the congregation, who continued warmly attached to him till the last.

Mr. Wright was a man of a singularly amiable, benevolent, and lovable disposition. No man knew him but to love him; no man ever spoke of him but in terms of the warmest affection. He was in truth “a brother beloved,” ever compassionating all that were in affliction, and ready and willing to make any sacrifice of time or trouble to help them in their difficulties. This amiable and loving nature and feeling heart, sanctified and regulated by grace, made him peculiarly fitted for the discharge of his pastoral duties in visiting the sick and suffering, by whom his ministrations were greatly prized. He was also peculiarly fitted for ministering to the young, and had a happy aptitude for addressing children. He had great delight in it, and was always listened to by them with the deepest attention. Nothing gave him more pleasure than to be asked to go and address an assembly of children. His preaching was not distinguished by great depth of theology; but it was always affectionate, and a thorough evangelical strain ran through the whole of it—no one could hear him and say that his trumpet gave forth an uncertain sound. He took a lively interest in all the affairs of the Church, especially in foreign and Jewish missions. But he never took any part in discussions in the Church courts, though regular in his attendance upon their meetings.

He was laid aside from active duty early in the present year, and had been in feeble health for some months previous to that. In the end of May he retired to Dunoon, where his health seemed rather to improve, and came home to the communion on the third Sabbath in June, and was able to take some part in the Sabbath-day services without seeming to be the worse for it, and returned to Dunoon immediately after. About four days before his death he was seized with an attack of dysentery, which his enfeebled constitution could not stand, and he died on Tuesday the 23rd July, having been taken ill on the previous Thursday. He has left a widow and daughter and son. His memory will long survive in the hearts of all his brethren and his flock, and of all who loved him. “He rests from his labours, and his works do follow him.” During his illness he visibly grew in grace, and now he is perfect in glory.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died April 26, 1879)
Author: Rev. W.D. Thomson, M.A. Lochend and New Abbey
Source: The Free Church Monthly, August 1, 1879, Biographical Notices, p.200

The Rev. Robert Wright was a native of Amisfield, a beautiful rural village in the neighbourhood of Dumfries. After having received the earlier part of his education at the Dumfries Academy, he proceeded to Edinburgh, where, at the University and the Free Church College, he successfully and with some distinction passed through the curriculum of study, in Arts and theology, required of him as a candidate for the ministry of the Free Church. Soon after he was licensed to preach the gospel, he was appointed to be missionary in connection with St. Andrew’s Free Church, Greenock. While labouring in that capacity, he was offered and accepted a call to the pastorate of the Free Church congregation at Dalbeattie, now one of the more enterprising and thriving little towns in the south of Scotland. To this charge he was ordained in February 1866; and ending as he had begun his ministry here, he died on the 26th of April 1879, at the early age of forty-three years.

Early in the spring of 1877, the symptoms of phthisis, which came to be the cause of his death, began to develop themselves to an alarming extent in his constitution; quite disabling him in a sudden way for all further discharge of pulpit duties. Thus more than two years elapsed from the time of his forced desistance from preaching to the time of his death. During that time the fatal progress of his disease was probably much retarded by the modes of treatment which he received; but, in spite of all advisable efforts to improve his health and restore him to usefulness, he grew worse and worse, and ere long his case got to be regarded as an utterly hopeless one.

Mr. Wright lived for Christ and for the good of the people of his charge. As a preacher he was able and instructive, and became increasingly attractive and impressive as his ministry advanced. In his visitations he was regular and conscientious. Whatever he felt concerned the welfare of his congregation or any of its members had a place close to his heart. Whatever he did, he performed it in an unostentatious way, setting at the same time an example of diligence, of perseverance, and of self-sacrificing devotion to duty. And, indeed, it was largely by means of his exercising the three last-named virtues that the disease which, unknown to him, had been rooted in his constitution, suddenly ripened into its dangerous stages. For, during some months before, while he was paying his yearly visits to his people, and faithfully discharging all his other duties, he had been very much occupied in a variety of ways with endeavours to mature a movement to erect a new place of worship for his congregation. It was in these circumstances that it pleased God to lay him aside from work—work which he found by degrees he was never to resume. Nor had the work which he had already done been in vain. Many good results from it remain behind him in the community where he laboured, as well as in the considerably improved condition of the congregation of which he had charge.

Such a person as Mr. Wright, of course, justly merited the esteem and love of all his brethren of the Presbytery of which he was a member. His presence at the meetings of this court was always to be depended on, and he took a spirited interest in all its business. On any question of importance regarding which there might be room for difference of opinion among brethren, the position he took up was sure to be well defined and consistently maintained; and a generous and hopeful disposition kept him pretty free from the failing to allow mere difference of opinion to interfere on his part with the feelings of brotherly love.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died December 3, 1882)
Author: Rev. William Shearer, Swinton
Source: The Free Church Monthly, June 1, 1883, Brief Biographies, p.178

After being licensed as a preacher of the gospel in Edinburgh, his native city, Mr. Wright acted as missionary first to Dr. Muir of St. Stephen’s, Edinburgh, and afterwards to Mr. Thorburn, South Leith. The gifts and devotion which he manifested in thee spheres, and the interest he took in the Ten Years’ Conflict then in progress, led to his being sent along with others to Strathbogie to preach to the people whose ministers had been suspended by the supreme court of the Church. Here he preached with much acceptance; and at Rhynie, where he was eventually ordained over an attached congregation, he attracted much notice by the vigour and promptitude with which he and his congregation contrived to erect a plain but substantial wooden church in one day (as related in the “Annals of the Disruption”), and thus outwitted the edict-serving officers of the Court of Session.

In the memorable year of the Disruption, 1843, Mr. Wright came to Swinton, Berwickshire, to labour among those who had left the Establishment, and was thus one of that devoted band of men, of whom now so few are left, who planted congregations and preached a pure gospel within the bounds of the Presbytery of Duns and Chirnside.

The difficulties he had to contend with in Swinton were great and galling. No site could be got for church or school buildings, no suitable lodging could be had in the village —petty oppositions arose on every hand. For a time he accepted the hospitality of a warm friend, the late Mr. Thomson of Mungoswalls, who kindly put his house at Earnslaw at his disposal. The distance from work proving a hindrance, he removed to a small, damp, dingy cottage in the village, where he lived until the present manse was built. These difficulties were encountered with truly heroic courage. His devotedness, zeal, and perseverance enabled him to overcome all obstacles; and not only in Swinton but throughout the whole district, his labours were eminently helpful in securing a place for evangelical religion in the esteem and affection of the people. The knowledge of medicine which he had acquired in his student days, the medical instinct which he possessed in a very marked degree, his ready sympathy, his constant and ungrudging attention to all who sought his help in sickness, and the fame he gained by the wonderful cures he effectexd, made him widely known, and gave him great influence. Many are the families in Merse who relate even at this day how one and another of their number owe their life under God to his skill and treatment. But what most endeared him to the members of his own congregation was the love he bore to the Lord, the grasp he had of evangelical truth, and the plainness, simplicity, and affection with which he preached the un searchable riches of Christ. He was deeply interested in the great revival movement which spread over the district in 1861. Many among his people can trace their saving impressions of divine truth to his labours at that time, while he himself rejoiced in it as the glory of the Lord taking possession of the new house, which, mainly by his efforts and liberality, had been so recently built and dedicated to God.

Though he retired from the active ministry at Swinton in 1870, he continued to be senior minister of the congregation, and often was present at communion seasons, when his services were much enjoyed by the people. Only one year ago, at the request of the Presbytery, he performed a service of love in preaching the funeral sermon of Mr. Spence of Houndwood.

Mr. Wright was held in high esteem by all his brethren of the Presbytery. His wonderful geniality and kindness of heart made intercourse with him at all times delightful, while his sagacity and varied experience made him a wise counsellor in times of perplexity. His generous nature, his great kindness, his beautiful forgiving spirit, his blameless, consistent Christian character, won for him the respect of all who knew him. He died at his residence, Towerville, Helensburgh.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died May 1, 1890)
Author: Rev. C. A. Salmond, Edinburgh
Source: The Free Church Monthly, August, 1890, p.239

In the lamented removal of Dr. Wylie, the leading representative of a Church and also of a cause has been taken from us. Surviving as he did the younger McCrie, he was the most notable living representative, for years past, of the majority of the Original Secession body, who joined the Free Church in 1852. And, as everybody knows, he has long been the leading Protestant authority, not in Scotland only, but in English-speaking Christendom, on all questions relating to the Romish controversy.

Born at Kirriemuir on 9th August 1808, he had nearly completed his eighty-second year when he died, on 1st May of the present year; but such was his vitality even as an octogenarian, that at the time of his death he had in contemplation an amount of literary work, the thought of which would have burdened many a younger man. He hoped, for one thing, to finish his “History of the Scottish Nation,” by adding other three volumes to the third lately issued; and he had expressed his willingness, when Mr. Cusin died, to undertake if called upon—a task happily committed since to his friend Mr. McCrie of Ayr—the preparation of the next series of the Cunningham Lectures.

His name—James Aitken Wylie—is itself suggestive, to those familiar with Scottish Secession history, of the surroundings and influences among which as a boy he was reared. James Aitken, his minister and name-father, was one of the most godly and in every way estimable leaders of the “Old Light Anti-burghers,” and Dr. Wylie felt and owned to the last how much he owed to his nurture in that school of robust primitive piety. It may interest modern readers about “Thrums” to find the old man writing thus, not long ago:—

“My heart often goes back to Kirriemuir. Its Communion Sabbaths, though now eighty years behind me, are still green and fragrant in my memory. I bless God that I was born in the Original Secession Church. I now see that it was an essential preparation for doing the work to which I have been called; and if I have done any good in the world, the ordering of my birth has been one of the main subordinate causes. The ‘History of Protestantism’ has its roots in the feelings, the kindlings, and the aspirations of my boyhood, and in the sympathy for the oppressed and downtrodden which was wrought in me by the derision and persecution which Mr. Anderson [author of ‘The Ladies of the Covenant’] and myself daily endured from a set of reprobate schoolfellows, who termed us ‘Aitkenites.'”

His education was begun in the parish school of his native place. Then he passed to Marischal College, Aberdeen, for three years, completing his Arts course by a session at St. Andrews, under Dr. Thomas Chalmers. In 1827 he entered the O. S. Divinity Hall in Edinburgh, and there came under the influence of a man who impressed him even more than Chalmers had done — Dr. Thomas McCrie, the biographer of Knox. He was admitted to intimate fellowship by McCrie, and he carried the memory of his friend and teacher with him as a life-long inspiration. In 1828, James Aitken Wylie was one of eleven divinity students who, with twenty-one ministers and seven probationers of the Original Secession Synod, “renewed the Covenants” in Edinburgh; and in him the last survivor of this little band of jurants has passed away. Referring to the abiding influence on Dr. Wylie’s mind and character of this early environment, Principal Rainy has fitly said: “His religious life was nourished in some of the richest lines of Scottish pious tradition: and from that circle and centre of influence he had derived impressions which gave a special character —and an attractive one—to his modes of view and feeling. He always retained a full sympathy with the characteristic tendencies of the Old Secession in matters religious and ecclesiastical; yet with a certain largeness of construction, and with a literary instinct, which enabled him in various respects to keep pace with his time, and to perceive the new-form in which old forces must work.”

His license took place on 1st December 1829, and he was ordained at Dollar on 20th April 1831. His pastoral sphere there was a very limited one, but its duties were faithfully and cheerfully discharged for the next fifteen years, during which period, however, his pen had found for him a much wider constituency. To the time of the Dollar ministry belong his “Modern Judea,” “Scenes from the Bible,” and other works, which were most favourably received, and ran into numerous editions.

In 1846 Mr. Wylie had an important offer from Hugh Miller, which, by the advice of the younger McCrie and with the eager approval of Dr. Candlish, he felt it his duty to accept—the joint-editorship, namely, of The Witness. This involved his transference to Edinburgh, on whose streets, for the succeeding forty-four years of incessant literary activity, he has been one of the most familiar figures. His association with Hugh Miller on The Witness was a very happy one; and some eight hundred of the leading articles in that almost epoch-making journal were from Mr. Wylie’s hand.

His exuberant energy found outlet the while in the publication of several separate volumes, the most notable of which appeared in 1851, and was entitled “The Papacy: its History, Dogmas, Genius, and Prospects.” This treatise gained for him, by the unanimous award of Drs. Wardlaw, Cunningham, and Eadie, the Evangelical Alliance prize of a hundred guineas. It also won for him a European reputation,—to which the savage attacks of Romish critics, at home and on the Continent, brought added lustre,—and it helped to give direction to his future life.

In 1852, as already mentioned, Mr. Wylie joined the Free Church of Scotland; and in the following year he became editor of the Free Church Record – a post which he held for the next eight years. The degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by Aberdeen University in 1856. Of his separate literary ventures at this time, one was a competitive essay on “The Gospel Ministry: the Duty and Privilege of Supporting It.” He secured by it the prize of £150; and in this connection Dr. Joseph Parker, who obtained proximos honores, writes: ”On procuring Dr. Wylie’s essay and reading it, I said, ‘This should have won both the prizes: it is infinitely the best.” The ”Pilgrimage from the Alps to the Tiber,” “The Waldenses,” and “The Great Exodus,” also found many readers.

In 1860, mainly through the instrumentality of Dr. Begg, the Protestant Institute was established; and Dr. Wylie, by acclamation, was invited to be the lecturer. The appointment in his case was for life; and though the subject of Popery is not in itself attractive, it is true—and it is much to say— that for thirty successive years Dr. Wylie’s treatment of it has continued to be a living influence in our land. In him the Churches had no mere holder of an office, but a man with a mission, who, while centering his energies on the functions of his chair, was ready to devote his life in every possible way to the exposure of Papal errors and the clear and fervid counter exposition of the principles of the Reformation. If the members of even his first class felt that they were sitting at the feet of one who was a past-master in his subject, the successive relays of students who, to the number of about two thousand, went through his classes, had equal reason to know that in their teacher they had one not only familiar with Popish theory, but keenly awake to Popish practice in all its contemporary developments.

Besides holding his classes, Dr. Wylie addressed countless meetings in his time throughout the country. His “delivery,” it must be said, contrasted unfavourably with the grace of his written style; but he rose on occasions to a genuine eloquence which fairly carried his audience along with him.

This was notably the case once and again in Exeter Hall, where his appearance was latterly hailed with the utmost enthusiasm; and in many parts of England the announcement of Dr. Wylie’s name would draw a large audience together at any time. This was partly to be accounted for by the greater urgency of the Romish question in England. It was partly, no doubt, also due to the great circulation of his writings in the sister country, where his magnum opus, for example— “The History of Protestantism,” 3 vols., 2,000 pp., 1874-77—has sold in scores of thousands.

Dr. Wylie was not one to whom any large share of outward honours fell; nor did he covet them. But that he held a high place in the esteem and a warm place in the affections of many, came unmistakably out at the time of his jubilee in 1881. The meeting, presided over by Sir Henry Moncreiff, at which his portrait, now hanging in the Institute, was presented, was of the most genuinely appreciative character; and the £300 gift, handed to him by Dr. Whyte and the writer about the same time one day in his study, came in so freely from the few friends applied to throughout the country as to indicate that a much larger sum might readily have been gathered had a wider movement been set afoot. The intention of the gift, however, was completely realized; for in the following spring, at the age of seventy-four, the doctor accomplished his tour in Egypt and Palestine, of which he has given a graphic account in his “Land of the Pharaohs,” and his “Over the Holy Land.”

We cannot enter further here into the details of his busy life. It was a life of great simplicity both in purpose and in habit. Spent mostly at the desk, or rather at the desk and mantelpiece, on which a great part of his writing was done, it was varied by two regular daily “constitutionals,” at daybreak and in the afternoon, when he was at home, and by an occasional excursion to one or other of the historic lands of Europe, in the intervals of his class work. The day was ordinarily crowned by an hour or two of cheerful converse by the hearth. Those favoured with his intimate friendship will bear the writer out in saying, as he has already done elsewhere, that to be with Dr. Wylie at such times, and to listen to his rich and sparkling conversation, on whatever subject might come up, meant both education and enjoyment.

Men spoke of him sometimes as a “fanatic;” but if his utterances on the Papacy were strong, his detestation of the system was equalled by his tenderness for its unhappy votaries. To virile strength he united a woman’s sensibility. It was a profound mistake to fancy in him an acrid, self-assertive, one-idead controversialist. He was one of the best informed, most genial, and sympathetic of men, and his deep unaffected humility was one of his greatest charms. You could not be long with him without perceiving in him a lover of Christ and of all good men, and his mellow unostentatious piety gave an unmistakable savour to all his life.

And now he has gone to be with Christ, for whom he lived and in whom he died. His end was as simple as his life had been. Influenza seized him at the close of his last session, when, through excessive work of various kinds, his system was unusually low. For three or four weeks he was confined to bed. Though nothing serious was apprehended, he was greatly cheered, as were his two attached daughters, by the occasional visits of his minister and fellow-townsman Dr. Whyte, in whose congregation he had long been an elder, and whose weekly pulpit ministrations had been to him a fountain of delight. He said to me on the Sabbath evening before he died, “I have often been a very unworthy worshipper, but I can truly say, ‘Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, the place where thine honour dwelleth.'” It was not till the day before the end came that it was a settled conviction with him that he was to die. But by that time he had relinquished all his literary plans, asking anything or nothing to be done with his papers, as might seem to be best. His mind was reverting to early Kirrie days, and anon going forward to the eternal world, on which he was so soon to enter. I said, “You are resting on Christ, doctor?” “Yes,” he replied; “on Christ the Rock. If there’s a piece of adamant anywhere in the universe, it’s there—Christ the Rock.” Next morning I was again by his bedside. Death was now plainly written on his face. He spoke with difficulty some words of blessing, and as he entered on his breathless closing struggle with the last enemy, I could hear him say in the words of the old psalm:—

“Upon the Lord, who worthy is
Of praises, will I cry;
And then shall I preserved be
Safe from mine enemy.”

He remained conscious for a short time after this, and could give a look of recognition still and a farewell pressure of the hand to those nearest to him. But he never spoke again; and it will ever be suggestive of a hallowed memory to be able, after a lifelong friendship with him, to say of him in turn what he wrote to me of the elder M’Crie: “I watched by his bedside when he was dying, and I was the last to whom he addressed mortal speech.”

Dr. Wylie’s earthly remains were laid in the Newington cemetery, just a few yards from the grave of Dr. Begg. Principal Rainy made impressive pulpit reference to him in Free St. George’s on the following Sabbath, in the absence of Dr. Whyte. After speaking cordially of Dr. Wylie’s work, his literary power, various knowledge, and the “industry and fertility of mind which age seemed impotent to weaken or exhaust,” Dr. Rainy said, and with these words we close: “Besides his services, one recognized in him the antique atmosphere and light and shade of an older time. We feel the passing away of memories and associations we would gladly have retained among us—interesting, venerable, endeared. We are the poorer for the loss. We feel the old order changing. We shall do well to cling to the truth it lived by, and to reproduce, if we may, the fidelity to truth and goodness, to Christ and the gospel, which inspired it.”

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page


(Died October 16, 1893)
Author: Rev. John Edgar, Glasgow
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, April, 1894, Obituary, p.91

Mr. Wylie enjoyed the advantage of the example and training of excellent Christian parents, who were connected with the Reformed Presbyterian Church. With his father, who was an elder, and afterwards a city missionary, he was wont to walk from Pollokshaws to Glasgow to the church of the Rev. John McDermid. When a lad he was led int0 the kingdom of grace and received into the membership of the Church. Having studied at Glasgow University, he received his theological training at the Reformed Presbyterian Hall. Licensed in 1869, he received a call the same year from the Hawkhill Church, Dundee. At the Union of 1876, with his congregation he joined the Free Church. During twenty-four years he continued to labour unweariedly, in season and out of season, in his Master’s service. He was pre-eminently a mission minister, who sought to gather in the careless and outcast. It became necessary to erect for his increasing congregation a new and more commodious place of worship, which is now free of debt. A manse has also been built.

In the midst of a busy and useful life, enjoying to all appearance vigorous health, full of plans for extended usefulness, he was suddenly called to his rest on Monday, October 16, after conducting three services on the preceding Sabbath. The very large concourse at his funeral, and also at the services on the following Lord’s day, gave touching testimony to the high esteem in which he was held both by his congregation and the community. His was a capacious, evenly-balanced, and well-formed mind. Familiar with current literature and Church questions, he also knew human nature. His influence over the young was strikingly exemplified in his large Bible-classes, from which such members constantly passed into the membership of the Church. He excelled as an open-air preacher. Many jewels he gathered from the street. As a visitor he probably was most at home and appeared at his best. His agreeable manner, tact, gentleness, kindness, power of adapting himself to any circumstances, instinctive discernment of a person’s spiritual standpoint, skill in speaking a word in season, ability when required to meet argument with argument, and even wit with wit, made him welcome to all kinds of homes and hearts. The children loved to run to him on the street. As a preacher he was fresh, instructive, unconventional, illustrative. His aim was edification rather than eloquence. He watched for souls as one who must give account. His memorial is in his large congregation and new place of worship. “His work like his church—unpretentious, unassuming, genuine, and lasting,” is the testimony of a neighbouring minister. Another says: “He was gifted with a vigorous brain and a woman’s heart. He was a considerate husband, an affectionate parent, a faithful and obliging friend. He had perseverance mounting almost to genius, and was always so hopeful that it did one good to hear him speak of his plans for the good of his people. If ever one spent himself for the good of souls and the interests of the Free Church, that was the man who so suddenly passed to his reward.”

He was predeceased by his wife seven months, and leaves three sons and a daughter.

Return to Index of Obituaries                                                                                                                                 Return to Top of page