Mr. George Gillespie was son to Mr. John Gillespie, sometime minister of the gospel at Kirkaldy. After Mr. George had been some time at the university (where he surpassed the most part of his fellow-students) he was licensed to preach some time before the year 1638, but could have no entry into any parish because the bishops had then the ascendant in the affairs of the church. This obliged him to remain for some time chaplain, in the family of the earl of Cassils. -- -- And here it was, that he wrote that elaborate piece (though he was scarce twenty-five years of age) intitled, a dispute against the English popish ceremonies, &c. which book was, in the year 1637, discharged, by order of proclamation, to be used, as being of too corrosive a quality to be digested by the bishops weak stomachs.
After this he was ordained minister of Weemes, by Mr. Robert Douglas, April 26, 1638, being the first who was admitted by a presbytery in that period, without an acknowledgment of the bishops. -- -- And now Mr. Gillespie began in a more public way to exert himself in defence of the presbyterian interest, when at the 11th session of that venerable assembly held at Glasgow 1638, he preached a very learned and judicious sermon from these words, The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, &c. in which sermon, the earl of Argyle thought that he touched the royal prerogative too near, and did very gravely admonish the assembly concerning the same, which they all took in good part, as appeared from a discourse then made by the moderator for the support of that admonition.
At the general assembly held at Edinburgh 1641, Mr. Gillespie had a call tabled from the town of Aberdeen, but the lord commissioner and himself here pled his cause so well, that he was for sometime continued at Weemes -- -- Yet he got not staying there long, for the general assembly in the following year ordered him to be transported to the city of Edinburgh, where it appears he continued until the day of his death, which was about six years after.
Mr. George Gillespie was one of those four ministers who were sent as commissioners from the church of Scotland to the Westminster assembly in the year 1643, where he displayed himself to be one of great parts and learning, debating with such perspicuity, strength of argument, and calmness of spirit, that few could equal, yea none excel him, in that assembly. -- -- As for instance, One time when both the parliament and the assembly were met together, and a long studied discourse being made in favours of Erastianism to which none seemed ready to make an answer, and Mr. Gillespie being urged thereunto by his brethren the Scots commissioners, repeated the subject-matter of the whole discourse, and refuted it, to the admiration of all present, -- and that which surprised them most was, that though it was usual for the members to take down notes of what was spoken in the assembly for the help of their memory, and that Mr. Gillespie seemed to be that way employed during the time of that speech unto which he made answer, yet those who sat next him declared, that having looked into his note-book, they found nothing of that speech written, but here and there, |Lord, defend thine light, -- -- Lord, give assistance, -- -- Lord, defend thine own cause, &c.|
And although the practice of our church gave all our Scots commissioners great advantages (the English divines having so great a difference) that they had the first forming of all these pieces which were afterward compiled and approved of by that assembly, yet no one was more useful at supporting them therein than Mr. Gillespie the youngest of them. -- -- |None (says one of his colleagues who was there present) in all the assembly, did reason more, nor more pertinently, than Mr. Gillespie, -- he is an excellent youth, my heart blesses God in his behalf.| Again, when Acts xvii.28. was brought for the proof of the power of ordination, and keen disputing arose upon it, |The very learned and accurate Gillespie, a singular ornament to our church, than whom not one in the assembly spoke to better purpose, nor with better acceptance of all the hearers, shewed that the Greek word of purpose, by the Episcopals, translated ordination, was truly choosing, importing the people's suffrage in electing their own office-bearers.| And elsewhere says, |We get good help in our assembly debates of lord Warriston (an occasional commissioner), but of none more than that noble youth Mr. Gillespie. I admire his gifts, and bless God, as for all my colleagues, so for him in particular, as equal in these to the first in the assembly.|
After his return from the Westminster assembly, he was employed mostly in the public affairs of the church, until the year 1648, when he was chosen moderator to the general assembly, in which assembly several famous acts were made in favour of the covenanted work of reformation, particularly that against the unlawful engagement then made against England by the duke of Hamilton, and those of the malignant faction. In this assembly, he was one of these nominated to prosecute the treaty of uniformity in religion with England, but in a short time after this, the sickness seized him, whereof he died about the 17th of December following.
Says Mr. Rutherford to him in a letter when on his death bed; |Be not heavy, the life of faith is now called for; doing was never reckoned on your accounts (though Christ in and by you hath done more then by twenty, yea, an hundred grey haired and godly pastors.) Look to that word, Gal. ii.20. Nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, &c.|
In his life-time he was always firmly attached to the work of reformation, and continued so to the end of his life. -- For about two months before his decease, he sent a paper to the commission of the general assembly, wherein he gave faithful warning against every sin and backsliding that he then perceived to be on the growing hand both in church and state, and last of all, he emitted the following faithful testimony against association and compliance with the enemies of truth and true godliness, in these words.
|Seeing now in all appearance, the time of my dissolution draweth near, although I have, in my latter will, declared my mind of public affairs, yet I have thought good to add this further testimony, that I esteem the malignant party in these kingdoms to be the seed of the Serpent, enemies to piety and presbyterial government (pretend what they will to the contrary), a generation who have not set God before them. With the malignant are to be joined the profane and scandalous, from all which, as from heresy and error, the Lord, I trust, is about to purge his church. I have often comforted myself (and still do) with the hopes of the Lord's purging this polluted land. Surely the Lord hath begun and will carry on that great work of mercy, and will purge out the rebels. I know there will be always a mixture of hypocrites, but that cannot excuse the conniving at gross and scandalous sinners, &c. I recommend to them that fear God, seriously to consider, that the holy scriptures do plainly hold forth, 1. That the helping of the enemies of God, joining or mingling with wicked men is a sin highly displeasing.2. That this sin hath ordinarily insnared God's people into divers other sins.3. That it hath been punished of God with grievous judgments. And, 4. That utter destruction is to be feared, when a people, after great mercies and judgments, relapse into this sin, Ezra ix.13, 14.
|Upon these and the like grounds, for my own exoneration, that so necessary a truth want not the testimony of a dying witness of Christ, altho' the unworthiest of many thousands, and that light may be held forth, and warning given, I cannot be silent at this time, but speak by my pen when I cannot by my tongue, yea now also by the pen of another when I cannot by my own, seriously, and in the name of Jesus Christ, exhorting and obtesting all that fear God, and make conscience of their ways, to be very tender and circumspect, to watch and pray, that he be not ensnared in that great and dangerous sin of compliance with malignant or profane enemies of the truth, &c. which if men will do, and trust God in his own way, they shall not only not repent it, but to the greater joy and peace of God's people, they shall see his work go on and prosper gloriously. In witness of the premises, I have subscribed the same. At Kircaldy December 5th, 1648, before these witnesses, &c.| And in about two days after, he gave up the ghost, death shutting his eyes, that he might then see God, and be for ever with him.
Thus died Mr. George Gillespie, very little past the prime of life. A pregnant divine, a man of much boldness, and great freedom of expression, He signalized himself on every occasion where he was called forth to exercise any part of his ministerial function. No man's death, at that time, was more lamented than his, and such was the sense the public had of his merit, that the committee of estates, by an act dated December 20th, 1648, did, |as an acknowledgment for his faithfulness in all the public employments entrusted to him by this church, both at home and abroad, his faithful labours and indefatigable diligence in all the exercises of his ministerial calling, for his master's service, and his learned writings published to the world, in which rare and profitable employments, both for church and state, he truly spent himself, and closed his days, -- ordain, That the sum of one thousand pounds sterling be given to his widow and children, &c.| And though the parliament did, by their act dated June 8th, 1650, unanimously ratify the above act, and recommended to their committee, to make the same effectual; yet, the Usurper presently over-running the country, this good design was frustrated, as his grandson the Rev. Mr. George Gillespie minister at Strathmiglo did afterwards declare.
Besides the English popish ceremonies already mentioned, he wrote also Aaron's rod blossoming, &c. and his miscellany questions first printed 1649, all which with the forecited testimony and some other papers, shew that he was a man of most profound parts, learning and abilities.