Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Burns, Robert (1789-1869)

BURNS, ROBERT, D.D. (1789–1869), theological writer and church leader, was born at Bo'ness in 1789, educated at the university of Edinburgh, licensed as a probationer of the church of Scotland in 1810, and ordained minister of the Low church, Paisley, in 1811. He was a man of great energy and activity, a popular preacher, a laborious worker in his parish and town, a strenuous supporter of the evangelical party in the church, and one of the foremost opponents of lay patronage. In 1815, impressed with the spiritual wants of his countrymen in the colonies, he helped to form a colonial society for supplying them with ministers, and of this society he continued the mainspring for fifteen years. Joining the Free church in 1843, he was sent by the general assembly in 1844 to the United States, to cultivate fraternal relations with the churches there, and in 1845 he accepted an invitation to be minister of Knox's church, Toronto, in which charge he remained till 1856, when he was appointed professor of church history and apologetics in Knox's College, a theological institution of the presbyterian church. Burns took a most lively interest in his church, moving about with great activity over the whole colony, and becoming acquainted with almost every congregation. He died in 1869. He was the author of several works: 1. 'A Historical Dissertation on the Law and Practice of Great Britain with regard to the Poor,' 1819. 2. 'On Pluralities,' 1824. 3. 'The Ghareloch Heresy tried,' 1830. 4. 'Life of Stevenson Macgill, D.D.,' 1842. Besides writing these works, he edited in 1828 a new edition of Wodrow's 'History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland, from the Restoration to the Revolution,' in 4 vols., contributing a life of the author; and for three years (1838-40) he edited and contributed many papers to the 'Edinburgh Christian Instructor,' which had been a very powerful organ of the evangelical party in the church when edited by Dr. Andrew Thomson, and was conducted by Burns for the advancement of the same cause.

[Memoir of Dr. Burns, by his son, Robert F. Burns, D.D., now of Halifax, Nova Scotia; Disruption Worthies; Notice of Dr. Burns, by his nephew, J. C. Burns, D.D., Kirkliston.]

W. G. B.