Mr. Robert M'Ward was born in Glenluce. After he had gone through his courses of learning at the university, he was ordained minister of the gospel at Glasgow, where he continued for some time in the faithful discharge of his duty until the year 1661, that this good man and affectionate preacher began to observe the design of the then managers to overturn the whole covenanted work of reformation. In the month of February that year, he gave a most faithful and seasonable testimony against the glaring defections of that time, in an excellent sermon in the Trone-church of Glasgow, upon a week-day; which sermon was afterward the ground of a most severe prosecution. His text was in Amos iii.2. You have I known of all the families of the earth
, &c. He had preached upon it for some time upon the week-days, and after he had run through personal abounding sins, and those of the city, he came to the general and national sins that were then abounding. And having enlarged upon these things in scriptural eloquence, in a most moving way, he gives a good many pertinent directions to mourn, consider, repent and return, to wrestle and pour out their souls before the Lord, and encourageth them to these duties from this, |That God will look upon these duties as their dissent from what is done, prejudicial to his work and interest, and mark them among the mourners of Zion.| But what was most noticed, was that with which he closeth this sermon, |As for my part (saith he) as a poor member of this church of Scotland, and an unworthy minister in it, I do this day call you who are the people of God to witness, that I humbly offer my dissent to all acts which are or shall be passed against the covenants and the work of reformation in Scotland. And 2dly
, I protest that I am desirous to be free of the guilt thereof, and pray that God may put it upon record in heaven.|
The noise of this sermon quickly flew abroad, and Mr. M'Ward was brought to Edinburgh under a guard, and imprisoned. Very soon after, he had an indictment given him by the king's advocate, for treasonable preaching and sedition. What the nature of his indictment was, we may easily guess from the scope of his excellent sermon. He was allowed lawyers, whereby his process became pretty long and tedious. Upon the 6th of June, he was brought before the parliament, where he had a very public opportunity to give a proof of his eminent parts and solid judgment. His charming eloquence was owned here by his very adversaries, and he defended, by scripture and reason, his expressions in his sermon before the bar of the house.
And although his excellent speech had not the influence that might have been expected, yet doubtless it had some, for the house delayed coming to an issue at this time. He indeed expected a sentence of death, which no way damped him; but his Master had more, and very considerable work too, for him elsewhere. Whether it was from orders from court to shed no more blood, or for other certain reasons, it is not known; but his affair was delayed for some time, and upon some encouragement given him of success, he, upon the Monday following, gave in a supplication to the parliament, wherein he exchanges the words protest and dissent, which he had used in his sermon, with those of testifying, solemnly declaring and bearing witness, and yet at the same time declares he is not brought to this alteration, so much for fear of his person, &c. as from an earnest desire to remove out of the way any, or the least occasion of stumbling, that there may be the more ready and easy access, without prejudice of words, to ponder and give judgment of the matter, &c., and withal humbly prostrates himself at their honours feet to be disposed of as they shall think meet.
This supplication, with what went before, might have softened the persecutors (as the forecited historians observe) and yet it had no effect; for Mr. Sharp and his friends resolved now to be rid, as much as they could, of the most eminent of the presbyterian minsters; and therefore he behoved to be banished, which was the highest thing they could go to, unless they had taken his life. Upon the 5th or 6th of July, the parliament gave him for answer, |That they pass sentence of banishment upon the supplicant, allowing him six months to tarry in the nation; one of which only in Glasgow, with power to him to receive the following year's stipend at departure.|
His Master having work for him elsewhere, he submitted to the sentence, and transported himself and his family to Rotterdam, where for a while, upon the death of the reverend Mr. Alexander Petrie (author of the compendious church history), he was employed as minister of the Scots congregation there, to the no small edification of many; and that not only to such as were fled hither from the rage and fury of the bloody persecutors, but also to those who resorted to him and Mr. Brown, for their advice in difficult cases, in carrying on and bearing up a faithful testimony against both right and left-hand extremes, with every other prevailing corruption, and defection in that day, it being a day of treading down in the valley of vision.
Thither the rage of his persecutors followed him, even in a strange land; for about the end of the year 1676, the king by the influence of primate Sharp, wrote to the state-general to cause remove James Wallace, Robert M'Ward, and John Brown, out of their provinces. But the states, considering that Messrs. M'Ward and Brown had already submitted unto the Scots law, and received the sentence of banishment, during life, out of the king's dominion, and having come under their protection, could not be imposed on to remove them out of these provinces, or be any further disquieted; and for this end sent a letter to their ambassador at the court of England, to signify the same to his majesty.
After this, this famous man was concerned in ordaining worthy and faithful Mr. Richard Cameron, when in Holland in the year 1679, and afterwards sent him home with positive instructions to lift and bear up a free and faithful standard against every defection and encroachment made upon the church of Christ in these lands, and particularly the indulgences, against which Mr. M'Ward never failed to give a free and faithful testimony, as is evident from several of his writings, particularly that in answer to Mr. Fleming.
He remained at Rotterdam until some time about the 1681 or 1682, that he died. It is said, that when, in his last sickness, he desired Mr. Shields and some other friends to carry him out to see a comet or blazing-star (that then appeared), and when he saw it, he blest the Lord that now was about to close his eyes, and was not to see the woful days that were coming on Britain and Ireland, but especially upon sinful Scotland. After which he died, and entered into his Master's joy, after he had been for twenty years absent from his native country.
It were altogether superfluous here to insist upon the character of this faithful minister and witness of Jesus Christ, seeing that his own writings do fully evidence him to have been a man of admirable eloquence (not to speak of his learning) and singular zeal and faithfulness. While remaining in Holland, he wrote several pieces which are said to be these; -- The poor man's cup of cold water ministred to the saints and sufferers for Christ in Scotland, published about 1679; earnest contendings, &c. published in 1723; banders disbanded; with several prefatory epistles to some of Mr. Brown's works. He wrote also many other papers and letters, but especially a history of the defections of the church of Scotland, which has never hitherto been published.