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DR. MACGILL IN THE CHAIR OF THEOLOGY.
Dr. Macgill entertained very high views of the value of Theological literature and the importance of the pastoral care. Of his sentiments in regard to the first, he gave a very decided practical illustration in the “Clerical Literary Society;" while of his views in respect to the second, he gave an excellent developement in his “ Considerations addressed to a Young Clergyman.'
It was not long after Dr. Macgill's settlement in Glasgow, that his mind was powerfully impressed by the conviction that the avocations of a city minister are, in some respects, unfavourable to the culture of the literature of Theology. This conviction led him to propose to some of his brethren in the city and its immediate neighbourhood, the plan of a Literary and Theological Association, to meet monthly, for the reading of essays, and for friendly conversation on their subjects. The society commenced in 1800. Its prime mover and projector unquestionably was Dr. Macgill. He held for many years the office of its Secretary. He found, however, zealous and active coadjutors, in Dr. Ranken of the Ram's Horn Church, and Dr. Lockhart of the College Church ; who were soon afterwards joined by Dr. Couper, then of Baldernock, afterwards Professor of Astronomy in the University ; Dr. Gibb, then of Strathblane, afterwards of St. Andrew's Church, Glasgow; Dr. Pollock of Govan; Dr. Maclatchie of Mearns ; Dr. Brown, then of Gartmore, now of Langton ; Dr. Robertson of Cambuslang; Dr. Chalmers, and many other members successively. The main object of the society is thus expressed in the first of its rules.
“It shall be understood, that under the denomination of Theological Literature is included, whatever is connected with the language, style, and dialect of the sacred writings; with the manners, customs, and ceremonies alluded to in the scriptures; the nature of the countries, history, and genius of the people; opinions of the Jewish and heathen nations; application of just rules of criticism to the illustration of difficult passages; and whatever might tend to remove difficulties, or place in a striking view the excellence, force, and beauty of the truths of scripture ; whatever is connected with the history and evidence of natural and revealed religion, and may tend to illustrate and enforce them; whatever is connected with the history of the Church; with MSS. of the bible, their history and comparative value; whatever is connected with the pastoral care, and tends to promote its great object; with the composition, style, and delivery, best adapted to the different parts of the pulpit service : or whatever, in fine, may be said to constitute the LITERATURE of the clerical
profession, or that species of learning to which a clergyman should chiefly direct his views and attention."
In addition to the regular essay on some subject comprehended in the wide and important range above described, a very useful branch of the society's plan was, the proposal and discussion of a question in the literature of theology, or in the business of the pastoral care; and this was taken up when no regular essay was produced, or, when the subject of the essay suggested it. The meetings of this society were regularly attended by Dr. Macgill all the time he was minister of the Tron Church, and even after his appointment to the theological chair. The substance of several of his printed works was submitted to the members of the society in the shape of essays; and although, after he became professor of theology, he was relieved from the routine of its ordinary duties, he still retained, as an honorary member, the warmest attachment to its interests.
It was in 1809 Dr. Macgill published his “ Considerations addressed to a Young Clergyman.” Most of the essays contained in this work had been read at meetings of the Clerical Literary Society, and with the high approbation of the members. In the second edition of the work, the form of essays was exchanged for that of letters; and assuredly the epistolary form seems best adapted for direct and familiar address. In this volume are discussed at very considerable length the vari
ous trials and temptations which assail a minister in the course of his pastoral duties, and which stand greatly in the way of their effective and successful discharge. The means of prevention or removal are also specifically pointed out; and various suggestions are made in the way of motives and encouragement to ministerial diligence and pastoral fidelity. The work as a whole is one of the most valuable in the department of pastoral theology; exhibiting extensive knowledge of human nature, and great practical sagacity. Mr. Macaulay, then Editor of the Christian Observer, in a letter to the author, dated 21st May 1809, thus expresses himself, and there are few who will not concur in the sentiment: “ I assure you, it is by no means the mere language of compliment, but my heartfelt sentiment, that the work is calculated to be most eminently and extensively useful ; I trust the blessing of God will attend its general circulation."
The labours of Dr. Macgill in promoting the literature of theology, and in directing young clergymen in the suitable discharge of their ministerial duties, together with his general respectability and the status he held in public esteem, pointed him out as a most proper person to occupy the chair of theology in Glasgow, then vacated by the death of the venerable Dr. Robert Findlay, who had held that distinguished office for more than thirty years. Dr. Findlay had been successively minister of Galston, of the Low Parish of Paisley, (now St. George's,)
and the Ram's Horn Parish, (now St. David's) Glasgow. On his nomination to the divinity chair in 1782, he resigned his pastoral charge, and devoted himself exclusively to his proper calling as a teacher of theology. His high attainments in the literature of his profession are attested by his able answer to Voltaire on the inspiration of the sacred books; and his acute criticism on 2 Tim. üi. 16, in refutation of the sophistry of Dr. Geddes and the socinian party. The lectures which he delivered to the students were replete with immense learning; but he embraced too wide a range of illustration, and descended to a minuteness of specification quite out of place. These circumstances rendered his prelections not so instructive or interesting to the young men as they might otherwise have been; while, like the pious Doddridge, his excessive candour detracted from the bold fidelity with which religious error should be put down, and the holy truths of the living God vindicated and enforced.
Many years after Dr. Macgill's appointment to the chair, it appears that his open and candid mind had been not a little vexed by open averments on the part of one or more of the professors, that his election was more a matter of expediency than of principle; yea, that it was the result of an union of interests in order to secure an arrangement in regard to another class in the college, and for the benefit of a particular clergyman. In other words, it was averred that there had been jobbing, and that