John MacMillan of Balmaghie, First Minister of the
Reformed Presbyterian Church.
Although the “Killing Times” had passed and
Presbyterianism in Scotland was firmly established with the succession of
William and Mary to the throne, there were still rumblings in the Church
and the wish by some, to maintain a strict form of worship and management
as propounded by Richard Cameron, James Renwick, and their successors, the
Societies. In time a new leader was to emerge in the form of the Rev
John Macmillan was born at Barncauchlaw, Minnigaff in
1669 and graduated from Edinburgh University in June 1697. He was ordained
on 18 September 1701 and was in fact the second of that name to be
minister in the parish of Balmaghie, in Galloway. His predecessor was not
related and seems to have been a sickly man who died 26 July 1700 aged
only 37 years. But John MacMillan, often referred to as ` alter ` (
meaning second) was of a different stripe being industrious with a high
regard for doing his duty. An early task, for example, was to review the
procedures and duties of the elders; determine what property there was
belonging to the church, and the arrangements for collecting and handling
charitable donations and welfare of the poor. Today we might compare this
to a new tenant checking the inventory for all the property for
which he was responsible.
In 1702 the Synod of Galloway requested ministers to
explain the National Covenant of 1638, to their congregations, which John
MacMillan did, but he also explained to them the nature and objectives of
the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643.. The distinction he made was that
the National Covenant was intended to counter Popery while the Solemn
League and Covenant was of wider scope being for religion, king and the
`peace and safety` of the three kingdoms. He was opposed in principle to
the `Revolution Settlement of 1690 because and in spite of Presbyterianism
being the religion of Scotland, there was still prelacy in England and
Ireland, and Catholicism was granted considerable toleration. In Scotland
the General Assembly could not meet without royal approval. This situation
was not what the hardened Covenanters thought was right and was the reason
for MacMillan`s stand. In July 1703 he petitioned the Presbytery to assert
the Divine Right of Presbyterian Church Government – the right of the
Church courts to manage their own affairs and the Headship of Christ over
The fall out from the Glorious Revolution had hardly
settled before King William III died on 8 March 1702. This left Queen Anne
on the throne and raised the hopes of the Jacobites and ushered in yet
another round of civil interference in the Presbyterian church. This began
with a letter to the General Assembly from the Queen in 1703 which seemed
to deny that the scriptures underpinned Presbyterianism and the way it was
organised in church courts. The Assembly replied that Presbyterianism was
agreeable to the Word of God and most conducive to the advancement of true
religion and godliness. Later, while in session reviewing the actions of
the Synods and about to approve them, the Queen`s Commissioner, Lord
Seaforth abruptly dissolved the Assembly. As one would expect, this
attempt to control the proceedings of the courts of the Church caused
alarm among the earnest evangelical ministers such as John MacMillan.
The Presbytery were not of such stern stuff and sought
to get John MacMillan to withdraw his petition. and when he would not,
they appointed a visitation of his congregation to take place on 30
December 1703. The purpose of this visit was not a visitation in the
normal sense, but to charge him with libel and following divisive
policies. MacMillan did not know of the action but when the charge was
passed to the Presbytery officer to be read out, he got hold of it, read
it to his audience and demanded that they produce evidence if they had
any. None was forthcoming and the meeting eventually broke up with
MacMillan continuing to defy the visitation members.
then followed a disgraceful act, where some members went to the
neighbouring Crossmichael church, reconvened the meeting of the Presbytery
and deposed MacMillan from his ministry. That they did this without
summoning him before the meeting, was completely illegal and served to
show the Jacobite sympathies and the malleability of the new Moderatism
that was creeping into the Church. MacMillan responded to the Presbytery
with apologies and remained silent for about a year but despairing of
getting any redress stood up after the sermon one Sabbath and declared
that he would preach the following week.
From then on, for some 26 years, he ministered within
the parish simply ignoring the committee and its ruling, and continuing to
preach and live in the manse. Notably, the congregation stayed with him
and when a new minister was sought to replace MacMillan in 1710 only 9
parishioners signed his call – some 87 heads of households and young men
protested against the appointment. During this time he also married Mary
Gordon, daughter of Sir Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun, and widow of Edward
Goldie of Craigmuie – an event which would not have been possible if the
charges made against him had any substance.
Shortly after his deposition the General Meeting of
the Societies invited him to a meeting which he attended. Several more
meetings took place and on 10 October 1706 he received a call to be their
minister. Macmillan saw where his duty lay and on December 2nd 1706 he
began by preaching at Crawfordjohn. Although the members of the Society
were widely scattered MacMillan visited them regularly, but it was the
widespread nature of his new parish that stretched from Galloway to Fife
that eventually caused him to leave Balmaghie in 1729 and reside in Dalry
The break from the Established Church can be dated
from when he and John McNeil published, on September 29th 1708,
a `Protestation Declinature and Appeal` which was sent to Edinburgh
setting out in strong terms the evils of the Church and the State.
MacMillan continued preaching, assisted by John McNeil until he died in
1722 having been a licentiate (ie not ordained as a minister) for sixty
three years. MacMillan continued alone for the next twenty one years
until he was joined in the ministry by the Rev Thomas Nairne.
Expelled from the Associate Presbytery for holding similar views to
MacMillan, Nairn`s coming allowed for the formation of the Reformed
Presbytery on 1 August 1743 at Braehead. He returned to the ministry of
the Church of Scotland at Abbotshall in 1758 and died in February 1764.
An important event for both the Societies in Scotland
and their brethren in Ulster was the decision to renew the National
Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant in 1712. This took place at
Auchensaugh and was because they objected to the Union between Scotland
and England in 1707, and the Act of Toleration of 1712 which
gave legal protection to Episcopalian worship in Scotland. This took
several days to effect as each member swore with uplifted hands to each
and every article of the two Covenants. These Covenants were again renewed
MacMillan`s ministry was of an old style and
characterised by his incessant visiting of his parishioners for the
purpose of prayer and catechising. This he did both in Balmaghie and in
his greater parish of the Society. For a time he also preached in
the fields, houses and barns and was much sought after to lay hands on
babies, even though some might then be baptised by a regular minister. The
physical drain on Macmillan , who was on his own
from 1722, was enormous any man to do all that was done,
Although viciously attacked in assorted pamphlets over the years MacMillan
seems to have bitten his tongue, or turned the other cheek perhaps. One
can only guess that these vitriolic criticisms, even libellous statements,
received the contempt they deserved.
MacMillan died at his brother`s house at Broomhill,
Bothwell on December 1st 1753 in his eighty fourth year, and was buried in
Dalserf where he had resided since moving from Clydesdale in August 1727.
John MacMillan had no children from his first marriage to Jean Gemble who
died, in 1711 , aged 38 years. The passing of his second wife Mary
Gordon,on 5 May 1723 aged 43 years left MacMillan on his own once more. He
then married about 1725 Grace Russell by whom he had five children.
Josias born 1726 died 7 February 1740
aged 13 years
Kathren born 1727, died 17 February 1736 aged 8 years.
John, born 1729
Grizel, born 1731, died 1767.
Alexander Jonita ( Janet ), born 1734 and died aged 6 months.
Josias, Kathren and Janet are buried in Dalserf
Grizel MacMillan married John Galloway of Sandyhills,
near Glasgow and had two sons and a daughter, Elizabeth, who married John
Grieve, a surgeon in Inverkeithing. When John Galloway died in 1764 Grizel
married the Rev John Thorburn minister at the Reformed Presbyterian
Church in Pentland. Grizel died in 1767 leaving an infant daughter.
John MacMillan II born in 1729, married twice, having
six children by his first marriage and twelve by the second. A daughter
married the Rev Thomas Rowatt, minister at Scaurbridge Cameronian Church
in Penpont . His ministry is memoralised in Shettleston churchyard where a
monument records that he died 11 February 1808 aged 79 years, and in the
58th year of his ministry.
John MacMillan III, son of John
MacMillan, of Sandhills was born in 1750 and became minister at Sterling.
He died 20 October 1818. Like his father and grandfather before him, he
preached the firm line of the Covenant.
It is not often that a man can leave a living monument
but in John MacMillan`s case his son the Rev John MacMillan of Sandhills,
and his grandson, the Rev John MacMillan of Stirling, followed him as
ministers, between them giving over 100 years of continuous preaching of
the Covenanted gospel.
bed, and monument at Dalserf.