Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/MacMillan, John
MACMILLAN, JOHN (1670–1753), founder of the reformed presbyterian church, son of John Macmillan, who descended from a branch of the family long settled at Arndarroch, was born at Barncachla, in the parish of Minnigaff, Kirkcudbrightshire, in 1670. He studied at Edinburgh University, whence he graduated 28 June 1697, became chaplain to the laird of Broughton, and was licensed by the presbytery of Kirkcudbright 26 Nov. 1700. His views of the binding force of the covenants were even at this time akin to those of the suffering remnant of Cameronians, but he was nevertheless ordained minister of Balmaghie on 18 Sept. 1701. At an early stage of his ministry he protested against 'the corruptions, defections, and errors of the church government,' and his relations with the presbytery grew more and more strained, until his brethren found themselves under the necessity of deposing him, 30 Dec. 1703, for disorderly and schismatical practices. There being no question as to Macmillan's morals or orthodoxy, it is doubtful whether the Kirkcudbright presbytery was competent to depose him. The deposition certainly affected him little; his popularity enabled him to retain possession of both church and manse, and he continued in the exercise of his ministry. He appeared before the commission of assembly 9 June 1704, acknowledged a fault, and earnestly desired, but without success, to be 'reponed.' In October 1710 William M'Kie was ordained to the parish, but was unable to take possession, was reduced to officiate in a barn, and was subjected to much violence. While attending a funeral in 1711 M'Kie was assaulted by some perfervid partisans of Macmillan. Two years later, when M'Kie's friends went to plough the glebe for him, Macmillan's followers rose against them, cut the reins in pieces, turned the horses adrift, and threw the ploughshare into the neighbouring lake (Hew Scott; but cf. Minutes of Presbytery, 5 April 1715). Constant appeals were made by M'Kie's adherents to the lord-justice clerk and solicitor-general, but the civil government manifested a disinclination to interfere, and the disorders continued in Balmaghie until Macmillan voluntarily resigned in 1715.
Though retaining M'Kie's pulpit, Macmillan had since 1706 really acted as minister to 'the remnant,' commonly known as the Cameronians, whose chief distinctive tenets were that no sworn allegiance was due to the king or government, on the ground that they had rescinded the covenants and the acts of the Reformation period. Macmillan's call by the remnant, which acquired and retained until 1743 the title of the 'Macmillanites,' was signed in October 1706. The secession provoked much controversy. Among the pamphlets that appeared the most interesting is 'The Friendly Conference between the Country Man and his Nephew, who having fallen off from Hearing, hath for some years been a follower of Mr. Macmillan,' Edinburgh, 1711, in which it was hinted (unjustly enough) that Macmillan, having resisted authority in order to curry favour with the more rigid presbyterians among his parishioners, was subsequently anxious to be reponed on any terms, and manipulated the schism with this object solely in view. 'A Letter from a Friend to Mr. John Macmillan, wherein is demonstrated the Contrariety of his Principles' (1709 ?), was twice answered, and as many times vindicated, before the close of 1712. Throughout this period Macmillan identified himself with the somewhat cross-grained jacobitism of his following, and the Duchess of Gordon described him in May 1707 to Hooke, the Jacobite agent, as 'a very cunning man and very zealous' (Hooke, Corresp. Roxb. Club, ii. 309).
Macmillan's accession was in fact of the utmost importance to the ' Reformed Presbyterians.' Their isolation originated in a lay movement of dissatisfaction with the revolution settlement of presbyterianism, at which the covenants were ignored, and until 1706 they met only as 'fellowship societies.' Since the death of James Renwick [q. v.] in 1688, and the defection of their three remaining ministers, Shields, Linning, and Boyd in 1689, they had waited and 'prayed patiently until the Lord should send them a pastor,' and Macmillan was the first ordained minister who associated himself with them. He was shortly joined by John M'Neil, a licentiate. To confirm the faith of members and give a public testimony of their principles, the covenants were solemnly renewed on Auchensaugh Hill in Lanarkshire in 1712. Having finally thrown in his lot with the 'Society people,' Macmillan laboured among them with indefatigable zeal, traversing the country and gathering converts. An attempt made to induce Ebenezer Erskine [q. v.] to unite with the reformed presbyterians when he seceded from the established church in 1733 was not successful, but the sect grew, and in 1743 Macmillan was joined by Thomas Nairn, minister of Abbotshall, Fifeshire. Whereunon they together erected a 'Reformed Presbytery' at Braehead, Carnwath, 1 Aug. 1743, and ordained new ministers, one of whom, John Cuthbertson, was despatched to support the cause in Pennsylvania. The 'Reformed Presbytery' was, however, unable to preserve its integrity, and 'divided' in July 1753 'upon a question relating to the extent of Christ's death' (see The True State of the Difference between the Reformed Presbytery and some Brethren who lately deserted them, Edinburgh, 1763). Macmillan died at Broomhill, in the parish of Bothwell, on Saturday, 1 Dec. 1763, 'in the greatest serenity and perfect exercise of his intellectuals to the very end' (Observations on a Wolf in Sheepskin . . . to which is subjoined an Account of the Last Words of the Rev. Mr. J. M'M. on his Deathbed, Edinburgh, 1763). An inscription on his monument at Broomhill describes him as 'first minister to the United Societies in Scotland, adhering at the Revolution to the whole covenanted Reformation attained to between 1638 and 1649. A son John was ordained by the 'Reformed Presbytery,' and became minister at Glasgow.
[Hew Scott's Fasti, pt. ii. pp. 698–9; Mackenzie's Galloway, ii. 309–16; Scots Mag. 1853, p. 627; Wodrow's Analecta, 1842; A True Narrative of the Proceedings of the Presbyterie of Kirkcudbright examined and found false, Edinburgh, 1705; Blunt's Dict. of Sects, s.v. 'Cameronians;' Chambers's Caledonia, iii. 323; Act, Declaration, and Testimony for our Covenanted Reformation, Edinb. 1777, pp. 51–2; Acts of Assembly, ed. 1843, esp. 30 March 1704 and 17 May 1717; art. by A. Symington in The Religions of the World, 1877; The Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, 1866, pp. 124–6; M'Clintock and Strong's Cyclopaedia, under 'Presbyterian Churches;' Advocates' Library Cat. iv. 361, 718; Brit. Mus. Cat.; information from the Rev. A. Gordon and the Rev. J. A. Chancellor of Belfast.]