May 10: James Hamilton Dies in Ireland (1666)

Deposed by Man, but Not By God
by Rev. David T. Myers

They called them “precopalians,” which strange as it may sound (and spell!), was  defined as Scottish Presbyterians who were leading Anglican congregations in northern Island, or Ulster.  At one time, in the seventeenth century, there were 27 Presbyterian ministers in churches in Ulster, all there to pastor the large number of Ulster Scottish families in the area.

Our post today deals with the Rev. James Hamilton, who traveled before he was ordained to Ulster.  Even after graduation from the University of Glasgow, he went to Ireland where his uncle had vast acreage in the northern part of Ireland. In time, our young man was noticed by a Presbyterian minister by the name of Robert Blair, who encouraged James to enter the ministry. It was on March 3, 1626 that James Hamilton was ordained as a minister in the Church of Ireland by the Irish bishop Robert Echlin. Hamilton began his pastorate in the Ballywalter Church and stayed there for a decade. The church later on became a Presbyterian Church, perhaps by the solid doctrinal preaching of Pastor Hamilton, as he is listed at their first pastor.

The presence of so many Presbyterians in the Irish churches brought the inevitable clash between who was the head of the church—the king of England or the Lord Jesus. When the Church of Ireland sought to bring subservience to the former and urged that the Presbyterian ministers deny the National Covenant of 1638, which had just been signed, James Hamilton resigned. He offered, along with two other ministers, to debate the matter, but the bishop simply deposed him from the ministry. He was ordered to be arrested, but escaped from their hands.

Around this time, Hamilton with three other Presbyterian ministers and 140 Ulster Scots commissioned a sailing vessel known as the Eagle Wing to sail to America. However due to storms, a broken rudder, and other calamities, the ship had to return to Ireland. Hamilton traveled on to Scotland and became involved with the Covenanters. He eventually became the minister of the Presbyterian Church of Dumfrees, Scotland.

It is interesting that he returned to Ireland for various purposes, once even to administer the Solemn League and Covenant in Ulster. Why he was not arrested, we don’t know, other than the providential care of God watching over him. On one of his trips to Northern Ireland, his ship was captured by forces not conducive to his faith. He served 10 months in prison but was set free in 1645. Returning to Scotland, he was appointed by the General Assembly to be a chaplain to King Charles II, but wound up with another prison sentence in the Tower of London.  Oliver Cromwell eventually gave him his freedom.  He eventually retired in Edinburgh.

James Hamilton died this day, May 10, 1666.

Words to Live By: A learned and diligent pastor, his life and ministry was certainly filled with hardship and difficulty. Even in his married live to wife Elizabeth Watson, this union would produce 15 children, with only one living to adulthood and the rest dying in infancy. God’s servants have often lived in hardship and difficulty. Think of Paul’s description of his ministry in 2 Corinthians 6:4 – 10 and 11:23 – 27. James Hamilton was deposed from his office by man, but supported by God’s Spirit in his life and ministry, always faithful to live and work in God’s will.  Let us, dear readers, keep busy serving our God and King, leaving the results of that service  in the hands of the Lord.  Romans 8:28 reads, “And we know that God causes all things (i.e. the sufferings of this present time) to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (NAS)

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