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Bruce, Michael (1686-1735) (DNB00)

BRUCE, MICHAEL (1686–1735), Irish presbyterian minister, eldest son of James Bruce, minister of Killeleagh [q. v.], born 27 July 1686, was licensed by the Doom presbytery at Downpatrick on 27 Oct. 1708, after subscribing the Westminster Confession, and promising not to ‘follow any divisive courses all the days of my life.’ He was ordained minister of Holywood, co. Down, on 10 Oct. 1711, and acquired the reputation of a quiet, solid preacher. He was a member of the ministerial club, founded in 1705, and subsequently known as the Belfast Society. This body, of which the mainspring was John Abernethy of Antrim [q. v.], exercised a powerful influence in liberalising the presbyterian theology of Ulster. When, in 1720, the nonsubscription controversy broke out, his father, James Bruce, became a subscriber. Bruce, who broke with Calvinistic orthodoxy, became a decided nonsubscriber, and in 1723 was one of the four ministers accused by Colonel Upton at the Belfast sub-synod as ‘holding principles which opened a door to lst all heresy and error into the church.’ In 1724 he protested against the exclusion of Thomas Nevin of Downpatrick for alleged heresy. He preached what was intended as a healing sermon, on 5 Jan. 1725, before the sub-synod. That same year he was placed with the other nonsubscribers by the general synod of Ulster in a separate presbytery (Antrim), and in 1726 the Antrim presbytery, of which Bruce was clerk, was excluded from the general synod, and became a distinct ecclesiastical body. A subscribing congregation was soon formed at Holywood, under William Smith, and most of Bruce's hearers deserted him. Woodrow says he had only ten or twelve families left, yielding a stipend of scarcely 4l. To improve his position, a fortnightly evening lecture was established in First Belfast, and Bruce was appointed lecturer, at 20l. a year. His reputation as a minister was high, but he wrote so little that it is difficult to form a judgment of his merits. He is believed to have had a principal hand in the nonsubscribers’ historical statement, ‘A Narrative of the Proceedings of Seven General Synods of the Northern Presbyterians in Ireland,’ &c., Belfast, 1727, 8vo (the preface is signed by Samuel Haliday, moderator, and Michael Bruce, clerk). He died 1 Dec. 1735, and was buried at Holywood, where Haliday preached his funeral sermon (Ps. xxxvii. 37) on 7 Dec. In 1716 he married Mary Ker, and had four children. Samuel Bruce [q. v.] was his son. He published only, ‘The Duty of Christians to live together in religious communion, recommended in a sermon,’ &c., Belfast, 1725, 8vo.

[Halliday's Funeral Sermon, 1735, Appendix to Duchal's Sermon for Abernathy, 1741, pp. 36 sq.; Bible Christian, 1841, p. 111; Witherow's Hist. and Lit. Memorials of Presbyterianism in Ireland, 1st series, 1879, pp. 295 sq.; Porter’s Seven Bruces, in N. Whig, 16 April 1885]

A. G.