Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ker, John (1819-1886)

KER, JOHN (1819–1886), divine, was born in the farmhouse of Bield, in the parish of Tweedsmuir, Peeblesshire, on 7 April 1819. His parents moved successively to Fillyside, between Leith and Portobello, and to Abbeyhill. Ker was much impressed as a child by the preaching of John Brown (1784–1858) [q. v.] He was educated at the Edinburgh High School, and in 1835 he became a student in the university of Edinburgh. He gained the first prize in Sir William Hamilton's class, and was second in both the moral philosophy and natural philosophy classes. In 1838 he entered the divinity hall of the united secession church. During the recesses he studied the French and German languages, getting the whole German dictionary by heart. He also learnt Hebrew and Arabic. He spent six months at Halle under Tholuck, and attended Neander's lectures at Berlin. He was well read in history, and fond of Scottish songs and romances. In February 1845 he was ordained in Alnwick, Northumberland, as minister of Clayport Street Church, in connection with the associate presbytery of Edinburgh. His congregation rapidly increased, and he helped to found a ragged school, besides giving literary lectures. He was called to Barrhead in 1849, and he was inducted in East Campbell Street Church, Glasgow, on 19 March 1851. He became known as a preacher and platform orator. His large church became crowded, and the centre of many agencies. He declined a call to Bristol in 1855, and an offer of the post of the first home mission secretary made by the synod (now the United Presbyterian Synod) in 1857. On 28 Nov. 1857 his congregation removed to a new church erected in Sydney Place at a cost of over 8,000l. In May 1858 his health broke down from overwork, and he had to spend many winters abroad, not being able to resume full work till 1872. A volume of his ‘Sermons’ ran through thirteen editions, and is remarkable both for style and power of thought. In 1869 he received the degree of D.D. from Edinburgh University. In 1876 Ker was chosen professor of practical training in the reconstructed theological hall of his church. His weakness obliged him to limit his labours; but, in spite of much suffering, he performed his duties successfully till his death on 4 Oct. 1886. Besides the volume of sermons already mentioned Ker published various sermons and pamphlets. He contributed to the ‘United Presbyterian Magazine’ articles on ‘Echoes of the Psalms in the Experience of Life and Death,’ 1884 (afterwards published as a volume entitled ‘The Psalms in History and Biography,’ 1886, 8vo); and on ‘The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes,’ 1886, &c. There appeared posthumously ‘Scottish Nationality and other Papers,’ 1887; ‘Lectures on the History of Preaching,’ 1888; and an interesting volume of his letters in 1890.

[See Scotsman, 6 and 11 Oct. 1886; Christian Leader, 28 Oct. 1886 (‘Dr. John Ker as Preacher and Professor,’ by the Rev. W. Dickie, M.A., Perth), and 18 Nov. 1886 (‘Dr. John Ker as a Pastor’); Biographical Sketch of the late Rev. Dr. John Ker, by the Rev. Dr. Leckie, Ibrox, Glasgow, in United Presbyterian Magazine, December 1886; and other notices and reviews.]

T. B. J.