Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Buchanan, Robert (1802-1875)

BUCHANAN, ROBERT, D.D. (1802–1875), church leader and theological writer, was born in 1802 at St. Ninnian's, near Stirling, and educated at the university of Glasgow. He was licensed as a probationer by the presbytery of Dunblane, ordained in 1826 minister of Gargunnock, and translated thence in 1829 to Salton in East Lothian, the parish of which Dr. Gilbert Burnet had been minister. In 1833, on a vacancy occurring in Tron parish, Glasgow (where Dr. Chalmers had begun his Glasgow ministry), Buchanan was called to fill the charge. He proved an ernest and like-minded minister, but owing to the calls of public business, in which be became involved at an early period, some of his most important plans for the good of the parish had to be postponed. Later in life, when the disruption of 1843 had brought rest from public controversy, he carried most successfully into effect a project for a territorial church and schools in connection with the Free church, in the district of 'The Wynda,' probably the most degraded portion of the city of Glasgow. The ideas of Dr. Chalmers as to home mission work were there carried out with remarkable success. By-and-bye, a portion of the 'Wynda' congregation proceeded to form a new church; and, by a widely extended system of ecclesiastical colonisation, many of the most needy districts were supplied with churches and ministers, and with bands of energetic and earnest spiritual labourers.

The conflict between the church and the civil courts of Scotland began to get very serious about the year 1838. A decision in the ' Auchterarder case ' having been given, in which the civil courts claimed a jurisdiction to which the evangelical majority in the church could not agree, a celebrated Independence resolution was moved by Dr. Buchanan, and carried in the general assembly of 1838, in which the position was defined which the church proposed to occupy in the conflict with the civil courts, which continued for the next five years. The resolution declared the readiness of the church to defer to the civil courts in all civil matters, but its firm determination in the strength of God to maintain the jurisdiction in spiritual things which had been conferred on it by its great Head. From this time Dr. Buchanan came to stand in the front rank of his party, and till his death, thirty-seven years afterwards, he was one of the guiding spirits of the movement. In counsel, in debate, as a deputy to London, on the platform and from the press, he maintained the principles which he bad announced, end strove to get them acknowledged. On 18 May 1843, when the disruption took place, he was one of the speakers on the platform at Canonmills who, standing round Dr. Chalmers, encouraged the Free church to grapple with the difficulties of her position, and to proceed energetically with the work of reconstruction.

The thirty-two years that followed were crowded with important services rendered by Buchanan to his church. Pre-eminent among these were: 1. His presiding over the sustentation fund committee from 1847 to 1875. 2. His 'History of the Ten Years' Conflict,' an elaborate work in 2 vols. 8vo. where, with great care, the whole movement was traced from its beginning, and ample extracts given from all the authoritative documents in the case. 3. His presiding over the ‘Union’ committee, and guiding the long-continued negotiations and discussions as to a proposed union of the Free church, the United Presbyterian, the Reformed Presbyterian, and the Presbyterian church of England. In this case his efforts proved unsuccessful, owing to the opposition of Dr. Begg and others. In the business of the general assembly Buchanan always took a leading part. While thus active in the affairs of his church, he was a useful citizen of Glasgow, and was deeply interested in all that concerned its prosperity. He was elected a member of the first school board, and laboured unweariedly to the last day of his residence in Glasgow in that and other undertakings for the good of the city.

Buchanan promptly received from time to time whatever honours were suitable to a man in his position. In 1840 the university of Glasgow conferred on him the degree of D.D. In 1860 he was appointed moderator of the general assembly. In 1864 a presentation of four thousand guineas was made to him by his friends, in token of their appreciation of his services. And in 1875, if death had not intervened, he would have been appointed by acclamation principal of the Free Church College of Glasgow.

Though not much of a literary man, Buchanan published several volumes besides his ‘History of the Ten Years' Conflict.’ Among those may be mentioned his ‘Clerical Furlough,’ being an account of a holiday trip to the Holy Land and other countries of the East; and a commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes.

He had been appointed to conduct the services in the Scotch Free church in Rome in the spring of 1875, and with his family reached that city on 4 Feb. He was greatly interested in all the wonderful sights in Rome, and entered very cordially into the work which he had been requested to undertake. A slight but not alarming illness confined him to the house for a few days in the end of March; on the morning of the 31st it was found that during the night he had quietly expired. The body was taken to Glasgow, and a great public funeral testified to the esteem in which he was universally held.

[Robert Buchanan, D.D., an ecclesiastical biography, by Rev. N. L. Walker, 1877; Disruption Worthies; Records of the General Assembly of the Free Church, 1875; Scott's Fasti.]

W. G. B.