George Gillespie - Encyclopedia

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GEORGE GILLESPIE (1613-1648), Scottish divine, was born at Kirkcaldy, where his father, John Gillespie, was parish minister, on the 21st of January 1613, and entered the university of St Andrews as a "presbytery bursar" in 1629. On the completion of a brilliant student career, he became domestic chaplain to John Gordon, 1st Viscount Kenmure (d. 1634), and afterwards to John Kennedy, earl of Cassillis, his conscience not permitting him to accept the episcopal ordination which was at that time in Scotland an indispensable condition of induction to a parish. While with the earl of Cassillis he wrote his first work, A Dispute against the English Popish Ceremonies obtruded upon the Church of Scotland, which, opportunely published shortly after the "Jenny Geddes" incident (but without the author's name) in the summer of 1637, attracted considerable attention, and within a few months had been found by the privy council to be so damaging that by their orders all available copies were called in and burnt. In April 1638, soon after the authority of the bishops had been set aside by the nation, Gillespie was ordained minister of Wemyss (Fife) by the presbytery of Kirkcaldy, and in the same year was a member of the famous Glasgow Assembly, before which he preached (November 21st) a sermon against royal interference in matters ecclesiastical so pronounced, as to call for some remonstrance on the part of Argyll, the lord high commissioner. In 1642 Gillespie was translated to Edinburgh; but the brief remainder of his life was chiefly spent in the conduct of public business in London. Already, in 1640, he had accompanied the commissioners of the peace to England as one of their chaplains; and in 1643 he was appointed by the Scottish Church one of the four commissioners to the Westmins er Assembly. Here, though the youngest member of the Assembly, he took a prominent part in almost all the protracted discussions on hurch government, discipline and worship, supporting Presbyterianism by numerous controversial writings, as well as by an unusual fluency and readiness in debate. Tradition long preserved and probably enhanced the record of his victories in debate, and especially of his encounter, with John Selden on Matt. xviii. 15-17. In 1645 he returned to Scotland, and is said to have drawn the act of assembly sanctioning the directory of public worship. On his return to London he had a hand in drafting the Westminster confession of faith, especially chap. i. Gillespie was elected moderator of the Assembly in 1648, but the laborious duties of that office (the court continued to sit from the 12th of July to the 12th of August) told fatally on an overtaxed constitution; he fell into consumption, and, after many weeks of great weakness, he died at Kirkcaldy on the 17th of December 1648. In acknowledgment of his great public services, a sum of 1000 Scots was voted, though destined never to be paid, to his widow and children by the committee of estates. A simple tombstone, which had been erected to his memory in Kirkcaldy parish church, was in 1661 publicly broken at the cross by the hand of the common hangman, but was restored in 1746.

His principal publications were controversial and chiefly against Erastianism: Three sermons against Thomas Coleman; A Sermon before the House of Lords (August 27th), on Matt. iii. 2, Nihil Respondem and Male Audis; Aaron's Rod Blossoming, or the Divine Ordinance of Church-government vindicated (1646), which is deservedly regarded as a really able statement of the case for an exclusive spiritual jurisdiction in the church; One Hundred and Eleven Propositions concerning the Ministry and Government of the Church (Edinburgh, 1647). The following were posthumously published by his brother: A Treatise of Miscellany Questions (1649) The Ark of the New Testament (2 vols., 1661-1667); Notes of Debates and Proceedings of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, from February 1644 to January 1645. See Works, with memoir, published by Hetherington (Edinburgh, 1843-1846).

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