George Gillespie

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It is well also for another reason, that—if obliged to publish at present only a part of these records—Drs. Mitchell and Struthers should have selected the “Minutes,” beginning with November, 1644, for this first volume.  From “Lightfoot’s Journal of the Assembly of Divines,” extending from the opening of the Assembly, July 3d, 1648, to December 31st, 1644, and from George Gillespie’s “Notes of Proceeding of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster,” extending from February 2 to May 3, from September to December 31, 1644, we are enabled to form a much clearer conception of the course of discussion in the As­sembly, than could possibly be done from the imperfect memo­randa of these Minutes.  This will be very apparent on a com­parison of the jottings of these Minutes with the Notes of Lightfoot and Gillespie, covering, with several omissions, the brief period from November to December 31, 1644.  The three records of December 9th, 1644, are as follows:

  1. Lightfoot’s account is:

“We speedily fell upon the business about burial as soon as we were set ; and the matter was, whether to have anything spoken at the burial of the dead.

“Dr. Temple moved that something might be said at the very interment of the body ; but this was thought not fit to be given any rule for, but rather to pass it over in silence ; and so the minister left something to his liberty.  Dr. Temple moved again, whether a minister, at putting a body into the ground, may not say, ‘We commit this body to the ground,’ etc.  And it was conceived of the Assembly that he might ; and the words ‘without any ceremony more,’ do not tie him up from this.

“Then fell our great controversy about funeral sermons ; and here was our difficulty—how to keep funeral sermons is England for fear of danger by alteration, and yet to give content to Scotland that are averse from there.  It was the sense of the Assembly in general, that funeral sermons may be made, if a minister be called on for it; and the debate was now to find terms to fit and suit with both parties.  At last we fixed on this: ‘That the people should take up thoughts and conferences concerning death, mortality, etc.; and the minister, if he be present, shall put them in mind of that duty.’  Here I excepted at the last word, ‘duty,’ for that a little speech would put them in mind of medi­tating and conferring spiritually; therefore I moved an alteration, which was much backed by divers, and it was changed, ‘of their duty.’  The mind of the Assembly was that these words give liberty for funeral ser­mons.  And thus we had done the directory for burial.

“Then fell we upon the report of our votes concerning Church Gov­ernment, where we had left off the last day; and when we had done them, Mr. Burroughs entered his dissent against two or three propositions, viz. against the subordination of Assemblies one to another, and against the instance of the Church of Ephesus for a Presbytery ; and so did Mr. Nye, Mr. Carter, Mr. Sympson, and Mr. Bridges; and Mr. Sympson offered from Mr. Goodwin to enter his dissent ; but we would not admit of any proxies.”

  1. Gillespie’s account of the same debate, under date Decem­ber 9, 1644, is :

“The votes of Government were read and ordered to be transcribed, that they may be sent to the Parliament.

“Messrs. Burroughs, Nye, Bridges, Sympson, and Carter entered their dissent from three of the propositions :  1. That there is a subordination of congregational, classical, provincial, and national Assemblies for the government of the Church.  2. That the example of the Church of Ephesus proves the propositions concerning Presbyterial government.

  1. That no congregation which may associate ought to assume all and sole power of ordination. Mr. Goodwin and Mr. Greenhill were not present.”

It will be seen that he omits the debate on funerals altogether.

  1. Now, under the same date of December 9, 1644, the Minutes before us make the following record :

Sess. 337, Dec. 9, 1644, Monday Morning.

“ Protestation read.  Debate of the Directory for Burial…. Neverthe­less this doth not inhibit any minister at that time being present to give some seasonable word of exhortation.

Mr. Marshall offered a paper to express the affirmative part.

“ Debate about something to be added to the negative.

Dr. Temple made report of the alterations in the frame* of govern­ment.

“ Ordered, this draught of Government be transcribed, to be sent to both Houses of Parliament.

Mr. Burroughs enters his dissent from the subordination of Assem­blies in that proposition, ‘it is lawful and agreeable ;’ and that ‘of par­ticular congregations assuming the power of ordination ;’ and that ‘of the Church of Ephesus,’ if you mean [that they were congregations, fixed.]

Mr. Nye enters his dissent to the same propositions.

Mr. Carter desires the same.  Mr. Sympson desires the same.  He also desired that Mr. Goodwyn’s dissent may be entered, he being not well.

Ordered, That he have leave against to-morrow.

“ Mr. Bridges desired the same.”

This comparative exhibition of what is said in the “Journal” of Lightfoot, and the “ Notes” of Gillespie, and in these Mi­nutes,” touching the debate of December 9, selected by us at random, will enable the reader to form some conception of the general nature and style of these recently discovered records.

  • “Draught” is written above “frame” in the manuscript, which, as will be seen from Lightfoot, quoted already, is more proper.

The words in these brackets are crossed over with a black line.

 

 

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What follows provides us with an interesting insight into the process of licensure and ordination for ministerial candidates nearly 300 years ago. Here too, our readers find out where our masthead comes from, namely the source of today’s post: Historical Discourse of the 150th Anniversary of the Upper Octorara Presbyterian Church, by J. Smith Futhey, Esq.

This section appears on pages 42-45 of the above volume:

“The Rev. Adam Boyd, who was the first regular pastor of this Church, was born in Ballymena, county Antrim, Ireland, in 1692, and came to New England as a probationer [in this context, the word means that he was licensed to preach] in 1722 or 1723. While there, he preached at Dedham. After remaining there for a time, he concluded to return to his native country, and was furnished by the celebrated Cotton Mather—who esteemed him well—with a certificate of his good character in this country, dated June 10, 1724. He, however, had formed an attachment to a daughter of Rev. Thomas Craighead, one of the pioneers of the Irish Presbyterians of New England, and, relinquishing his design of returning home, came to Pennsylvania, whither Mr. Craighead and his family had shortly preceded him, bringing with him the commendatory letter of Cotton Mather, as well as credentials from Ireland, and was received under the care of New Castle Presbytery. The following is the minute of Presbytery on the occasion of his reception: “July 29, 1724. The testimonials of Mr. Adam Boyd, preacher of the gospel, lately come from New England, were read and approved, and he being interrogated by the moderator, whether he would submit to this Presbytery, he answered that he would, during his abode in these parts .” Mr. Craighead had been received as a member of Presbytery on January 28, 1723-24.

“On the same day on which Mr. Boyd became a member of Presbytery, he was sent as a supply to Octorara, with directions to collect a congregation also at Pequea, and take the necessary steps towards its organization. He was so acceptable to the people that at the next meeting of Presbytery, September 14, 1724, a call was presented for his services as a pastor by Cornelius Rowan and Arthur Park, representatives of the people at Octorara and Pickqua. This call was accepted by him on the 6th of October, and at the urgent request of the commissioners who presented it, that an early day should be fixed for his ordination, the Presbytery met at the “Ackterara Meeting House” on the 13th of October, 1724, for that purpose.

“At this meeting of Presbytery—the first held on this spot—there were present as members, Thomas Craighead, of White Clay creek, George Gillespie, of Head of Christiana, Henry Hook, of Drawyers, Thomas Evans, of Pencader, and Alexander Hutchinson, of Bohemia, ministers, and Peter Bouchelle, elder. Mr. Craighead presided as Moderator.

“Mr. Boyd having passed the usual examination, the minutes of Presbytery record that “Proclamation being made three times by Mr. George Gillespie, at the door of the meeting house of Octorara, that if any person had any thing to object against the ordaining of Mr. Adam Boyd, they should make it known to the Presbytery now sitting, and no objection being made, they proceeded to his ordination, solemnly setting him apart to the work of the ministry, with prayer and imposition of the hands of the Presbytery. Mr. Henry Hook preaching the ordination sermon, and presiding in the work.”

Words to Live By:
To those of our readers who are not ordained teaching elders, the setting aside of qualified men to the office of the ministry in our Presbytery meetings may indeed sound foreign. But in another sense, those who are not ordained and not attenders of your regional Presbytery meetings still have the written record of Holy Scripture, such as 1 Timothy 4:14, where Paul wrote to young pastor Timothy and said, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.” (NASV)  The laying on of the hands of the presbytery  in our regional meetings have a biblical basis to them! It may indeed be a worthwhile day for you to attend as a layman or laywoman the proceedings of your local Presbytery some Saturday, or whenever they meet during the week. Visitors are welcome. Just talk to your pastor or a ruling elder for information on the next meeting.  It will enable you to pray more for your church, see the work of the Spirit in other nearby churches, and realize anew the biblical basis for being a Presbyterian!

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“Rise, George, and Defend the Blood-bought Church of Christ”

gillespieGeorgeSome thought that he was the one who framed that Shorter Catechism answer about God’s character. Other doubted that he was the author of it.  We may never know for sure, but it was stated that whoever framed the answer to the question, “What is God?” was the youngest minister present on the Assembly committee tasked with the question’s answer. And Rev. George Gillespie was the youngest minister present in that committee of the historic Westminster Assembly. Maybe only eternity will reveal for sure the real author of Shorter Catechism Number 4.

The issue came to the forefront on an important discussion on the attributes of God. Asked to help formulate an answer, Rev. Gillespie (if indeed it was he who was the author) asked first for divine help. And so he led with a prayer for wisdom, saying in his prayer, “O God, thou art a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in Thy being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” The whole prayer was eventually written down by the court recorder with the magnificent answer to the character of God set in place for us to adore, memorize, pray, and teach our covenant children and others of God’s  family.

Our Presbyterian character today is George Gillespie. Born to a clergyman father in Kirkcaldy, Scotland on January 21, 1613, little is known of his early life in the manse.  We do know that he had a brother named Patrick.  We know that his mother was inclined to favor that child and not George. We know that the father would often come to the aid of George, telling prophetically that George would one day be a mighty servant of the Lord in Scotland. But beyond those tidbits, his growing up days are scarce of events.

That he was a Presbyterians was a given, as he was supported by the Presbytery of Kirkcaldy financially to attend at age 16 the University of St. Andrews. While there at this school, it was said that he gave ample evidence of genius and industry, with a rapid growth of mental power, and extensive learning. What remained solid in his classes were his convictions regarding the biblical basis of Presbyterianism, including its government. It was expected that if he wanted to be ordained into the ministry in those days, it would be the ordination approved by the Church of England. This he refused to do, so he became a domestic chaplain ministering to three families in Scotland.

A year before he was ordained, at a critical time in the life of Scotland when the English Liturgy was going to be forced on the kingdom of Scotland, George Gillespie wrote a book entitled A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded upon the Church of Scotland. It plainly dealt with the purity of worship. It was so overwhelming in its thoroughness that no bishop ever attempted to refute it.

Eventually, when the Presbyteries of the land were recognized as being able to ordain individuals, George Gillespie was ordained to the gospel ministry on this day, April 26, 1638, by the Presbytery of Kirkcaldy. He became the pastor of a congregation in Wemyss, Scotland, for four years. Then he was called to High Kirk in Edinburgh, Scotland. However, in the same year, he was appointed with four other ministers of the Church of Scotland—Alexander Henderson, Robert Douglas, Robert Baillie, and Samuel Rutherford, along with some elders—to go to London as non-voting members of the Westminster Assembly. Not all of them went, but George Gillespie did attend and was a major participant for four years in the Assembly. He would deliver some 167 speeches to the assembly on a variety of issues.

Once, when a famous older proponent argued for a point contrary to Presbyterianism, Samuel Rutherford urged George to “rise, George, and defend the church for which Christ has purchased with his own blood.” After the proponent of the opposite side had finished his delivery, during which time George Gillespie was constantly writing in his notebook, the latter stood and absolutely demolished his opponent’s arguments. When they opened the notebook later, expecting to find the notes for his speech, they could only find short statements, such as “Give light, O Lord.”

At the Assembly was closed, Rev. Gillespie returned to his charge in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was soon elected Moderator of the General Assembly in 1648, even though he was obviously weakened in his physical condition. He would go to be with the Lord on December 17, 1648, with what we call now tuberculosis.  Truly, he was one of the leading divines of his day.

Words to Live By:
To our Christian readers who may be among the younger servants of the Lord Jesus, as was George Gillespie, Paul’s Word to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12 is, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example to those who believe.” (NAS)

For Further Study:
A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded upon the Church of Scotland has recently been reprinted in an improved edition. Click here for further details from the publisher.

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Recent weeks have seen the publication of a revision edition of the magnum opus of the Rev. George Gillespie [1613]1648], a Scottish Presbyterian pastor who served most notably as one of the Scottish commissioners to the Westminster Assembly. Since we will undoubtedly touch upon that young man at some latter date, we wish to dispel any confusion, and so our post today concerns a later pastor by the same name, also a Scot, but in this case an immigrant to the American colonies. “George the Lesser,” if you will, and of no know relation to the former and better known Gillespie.

“That Pious Saint of God”

George Gillespie was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in the year 1683, and was educated at the University in his native city. He was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Glasgow early in 1712, and subsequently came to New England in the spring of that same year, bringing a letter of recommendation from Principal Sterling to Cotton Mather.

The congregation at Woodbridge, New Jersey was at that time in a distracted state, and the ministers of Boston, having been made acquainted with it, judged Mr. Gillespie to be a suitable person to be introduced there, with a view to heal some of the existing divisions. He accordingly was introduced by their recommendation; but, though his course was altogether prudent and conciliatory, and he was received at first in a way that seemed to promise the happiest results, circumstances still more adverse to the harmony of the congregation subsequently occurred, that left him with little hope of accomplishing the desired end.

In September following, the Presbytery approved of his credentials, and if Providence should open the way for his ordination by a call from any congregation, Messrs. Andrews, McNish, Anderson, and Morgan were designated to perform the ordination service. The Presbytery recommended him again to the congregation at Woodbridge:—They say, “We shall strengthen his hands, and encourage his heart, to try awhile longer, waiting for the effect of our renewed essays for peace and quietness among you.”

Shortly after this, he received a communication from the Presbytery informing him that the people of White Clay had petitioned for a minister; and, if he left Woodbridge, he was ordered first to supply that people.

He received a call from the congregation of White Clay Creek, and on the 28th of May, 1713, was ordained by a Committee of three; having preached the day before on Galatians iv. 4, 5; and delivered an Exegesis on–“An Christus pro omnibus et singulis it mortuus?” These exercises, as well as his examination in the original languages, philosophy, and theology, were highly acceptable. His charge seems to have embraced, for several years, besides White Clay,–Red Clay, Lower Brandywine, and Elk River.

He is said to have organized the congregation of the Head of Christiana, and he served that church until his death, which occurred on January 2d, 1760.

Rev. Gillespie was zealous for the interests of the Church, and accordingly he was particularly zealous for strict discipline, and three times entered his protest, when he thought offenders were too leniently dealt with. In one instance he informed his Presbytery that he would publish animadversions on the undue tenderness of the Synod, but they absolutely prohibited his doing it.

He was remarkably punctual in his attendance on meetings of the Presbytery and Synod, as well as in bringing a contribution to the fund.

On the great question of the Protest, he did not vote. Having, in all the previous trying sessions, laboured earnestly for the peace of the Church, he withdrew with the excluded brethren, and signified his willingness to be of their number, though he does not appear to have met with them afterwards. He remained neutral till 1744, when he returned to the Old Synod. In discussing the terms of union, he objected to being required to acknowledge what was generally styled–“the great revival,” to be “a glorious work of grace.” He had seen so many sad issues from hopeful beginnings, so much that he deemed reprehensible in the course of some of the leaders in the work, such wild confusion and wide spread division connected with it, that he could not conscientiously give it his unqualified sanction.

Mr. Gillespie died January 2, 1760, aged seventy-seven. Dr. Francis Alison, who knew him, speaks of him as “that pious saint of God.”

Sources:
Sprague, William Buell, Annals of the American Presbyterian Pulpit, vol. 1, pp. 19-20. Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005.

Bibliography:—
1735
A Treatise against the Deists or Free-Thinkers: Proving the Necessity of Revealed Religion. Philadelphia: Printed for the Author by A. Bradford, 1735. 62 p.; 26 cm.

1740
A Sermon against Divisions in Christ’s Churches. Philadelphia: Printed by A. and W. Bradford, 1740.

1744
Remarks upon Mr. George Whitefield, proving him a man under delusion. [five lines of Scripture texts]. Philadelphia: Printed by B. Franklin, for the author, 1744. 24 p.

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