January 2: Rev. George Gillespie

Just a few years ago now the reading public was blessed with the publication of a revised 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 known 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. The Rev. Henry Garner Welbon was much later to serve as the pastor of this same church.

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.”

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

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.

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

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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