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GILLESPIE, GEORGE (1613–1648), Scottish divine, second son of John Gillespie (d. 12 Aug. 1627), minister of Kirkcaldy, Fifeshire, and Lilias, daughter of Patrick Simson, minister of Stirling, was born at Kirkcaldy on 21 Jan. 1613. His father was a ‘thundering preacher;’ the eldest son was Captain John Gillespie; a younger son was Patrick Gillespie, principal of Glasgow University [q. v.] George went to St. Andrews University at a very early age, if it be true that he graduated A.M. in 1629 (Scott). More probably he entered in that year. In November 1629 the session records of Kirkcaldy state that he held a bursary of twenty merks from the presbytery. Leaving the university he became chaplain to John Gordon, first viscount Kenmure [q. v.], on whose death (September 1634) he became chaplain to John Kennedy, earl of Cassilis, and tutor to his son, Lord Kennedy. In 1637, in the midst of the excitement which attended the ‘Jenny Geddes’ episode (23 July), the young tutor published his ‘Dispute against the English Popish Ceremonies obtruded upon the Church of Scotland.’ It was anonymous, and is supposed to have been printed in Holland. The Scottish privy council on 16 Oct. ordered all copies of it to be collected and burned, a measure which simply served to call attention to it.

On a supplication from the parish of Wemyss, Fifeshire, Gillespie was presented to this charge by the town council of Edinburgh on 5 Jan. 1638. The preliminaries to his ordination were taken on the motion of the archbishop (Spotiswood); but meantime all the members of the presbytery of Kirkcaldy, except three, subscribed the ‘national covenant’ of 28 Feb. They ordained Gillespie on 26 April, Robert Douglas [q. v.] presiding, this being the second instance of a non-episcopal ordination since the revival of the hierarchy. On the presentation of Lord Elcho he was instituted (8 Nov.) to the parsonage of Methill, Fifeshire, a quoad sacra parish (now in the parish of Wemyss). He preached before the general assembly which opened at Glasgow on 21 Nov., and was memorable for its deposition of the bishops. His discourse from Proverbs xxi. 1 was criticised by the Earl of Argyll as inimical to the king's prerogative. By this time his authorship of the ‘Dispute’ had become well known, and his remarkable powers in debate were making his influence felt.

On 21 Aug. 1640 the covenanting army of Scotland invaded the English border. Gillespie was one of the army presbytery, and made his first visit to London with the Scottish commissioners for the treaty of peace, after the armistice agreed upon at Ripon on 26 Oct. Next year he was called to Aberdeen, but the assembly, on 2 Aug. 1641, at his earnest request forbade his removal. Overtures were also made for his settlement at St. Andrews. After the re-establishment of presbyterianism (26 Aug.), Gillespie preached before Charles at Holyrood (12 Sept.), and was one of the covenanting leaders on whom the king bestowed a pension (16 Nov.). The town council of Edinburgh had already (12 Oct.) presented him to the Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh; he was translated thither on 23 Sept. 1642.

In 1643 Gillespie was nominated one of the Scottish commissioners to the Westminster Assembly. He took his place in the assembly on 16 Sept., and on 25 Sept. joined in subscribing the new covenant (‘solemn league and covenant’ of 17 Aug.). He was the youngest member of the assembly, being now in his thirty-first year, but his prestige as a disputant has closely associated his name with the details of its systematising work. Robert Baillie, D.D. [q. v.], who calls him ‘that brave youth,’ writes in unreserved admiration of his logical powers and his pointed speech. Legend has not dealt very accurately with Gillespie's actual contributions to the labours of the assembly. His encounter with Selden, in the debate on church government, was not a ‘single combat,’ as has been represented. Selden spoke on 20 Feb. 1644, maintaining that Matthew xviii. 15–17 has no reference to ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Herle immediately followed with an able reply. Gillespie's speech, from carefully prepared notes, was not delivered till next day, and it was Thomas Young who then met Selden on grounds of scholarship. Gillespie's ‘seven arguments’ were well chosen, but it is incredible that Selden should have said, ‘That young man, by this single speech, has swept away the learning and labour of ten years of my life.’

Gillespie's attendance at the assembly was first interrupted by the order which sent him to Edinburgh with Baillie, in January 1645, to introduce the directory to the general assembly, which opened on 22 Jan. He is said to have drawn the act of assembly sanctioning this form of worship. His return to London (9 April) was delayed a month, the ship in which he sailed being carried away to Holland. He assisted on the committee (appointed 12 May) for preparing the draft of a confession of faith. Professor Candlish successfully traces his hand in that section of chapter i. which deals with the internal evidence of the divine origin of holy scripture. On the final reading of the confession (4 Dec. 1646) he carried a technical alteration in the chapter on the civil magistrate. He took his last leave of the assembly on 16 July 1647. This disposes of the legend which connects him with the shorter catechism (not begun till 5 Aug.). Scott mentions the fable that Gillespie drew it up ‘in the course of a single night.’ More persistent is the story about the answer in that catechism to the question ‘What is God?’ which, according to one account, was taken from the opening words of a prayer by Gillespie. Pictorial shape was given to this version of the story, by Dean Stanley's order, in the decorations of the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster Abbey. The larger catechism has a kindred answer, brought to its present shape by successive revisions, which were not concluded when Gillespie left London. He presented the confession of faith to the general assembly which opened at Edinburgh on 4 Aug. 1647, and obtained its ratification.

Gillespie was elected to the High Church of Edinburgh by the town council on 22 Sept. He was chosen moderator of the general assembly which met on 12 July 1648, and was appointed on the commission to conduct the treaty of uniformity in religion with England. His intellectual powers were at their height, for it was then that William, earl of Glencairn, declared ‘there is no standing before this great and mighty man.’ But his end was near. He fell into a rapid consumption. With a dying hand he wrote his tract against confederacies with ‘malignants;’ similar testimonies were embodied in his will, and dictated to an amanuensis when he could no longer hold a pen. In hope of recruiting his health he went with his wife to Kirkcaldy, and died there on 16 Dec. 1648. A Latin epitaph was placed on his tombstone at Kirkcaldy. By order of the committee of estates the stone was broken by the hangman at the cross of Kirkcaldy in January 1661. In 1746 the inscription was replaced by his grandson, George Gillespie, minister of Strathmiglo, Fifeshire. To his widow, Margaret Murray, a grant of 1,000l. sterling was voted by the committee of estates on 20 Dec. 1648; the grant was ratified by parliament on 8 June 1650, but owing to the invasion by Cromwell in that year it was never paid. He left three sons: (1) Robert, a covenanting minister, who suffered imprisonment on the Bass Rock, lived for some time in England, and was at Auchtermuchty, Fifeshire, in 1682; his widow and children were recommended by parliament to the royal bounty on 17 July 1695; (2) George; (3) Archibald, died 1659; and a daughter, Elizabeth, who married James Oswald, an Edinburgh merchant.

Excepting a posthumous treatise, all Gillespie's writings are of a controversial character. Such interest as they now possess is less due to the skill of his dialectic than to his elevation of tone and the genuineness of his religious nature. His early maturity and untimely death have invested his memory with much of its peculiar charm. His mind was not illiberal. While opposed to toleration, as tending to perpetuate division as well as error, he saw nothing impracticable in ‘a mutual endeavour for a happy accommodation’ (Minutes, p. 28). Speaking in favour of a catechism, he declares, ‘it never entered into the thoughts of any to tie to the words and syllables’ (ib. p. 93). The fame of his ‘rugged name’ is preserved in Milton's sonnet under the form ‘Galasp.’

He published: 1. ‘Dispute against the English Popish Ceremonies,’ &c., 1637, 4to (anon.). 2. ‘An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland,’ &c., 1641, 4to. 3. ‘A Sermon … before the … House of Commons … March 27,’ &c., 1644, 4to (Ezek. xliii. 11). 4. ‘A Dialogue between a Civilian and a Divine, concerning … the Church of England,’ &c., 1644, 4to (anon.). 5. ‘A Recrimination … upon Mr. Goodwin, in Defence of Presbyterianism,’ &c., 1644, 4to (anon.). 6. ‘Wholesome Severity reconciled with Christian Liberty. Or, The true Resolution of a present Controversie concerning Liberty of Conscience,’ &c., 1645, 4to (anon., often erroneously catalogued as two distinct works). 7. ‘A Sermon … before the … House of Lords … August 27 [Mal. iii. 2] … added, A Brotherly Examination of … Mr. Coleman's Sermon,’ &c., 1645, 4to. 8. ‘Nihil Respondens,’ &c., 1645, 4to (answer to ‘A Brotherly Examination Re-examined’ by Thomas Coleman [q. v.]). 9. ‘Male Audis; or, An Answer to Mr. Coleman on his Male Dicis … with some Animadversions upon Master Hussey,’ &c., 1646, 4to. 10. ‘Aaron's Rod Blossoming: or, The Divine Ordinance of Church Government,’ &c., 1646, 4to (dedicated to the Westminster Assembly). 11. ‘One Hundred and Eleven Propositions concerning the Ministry and Government of the Church,’ &c., Edinburgh, 1647, 4to. Posthumous were: 12. ‘An usefull Case of Conscience … associations and confederacies with Idolaters, Infidels, Hereticks,’ &c., 1649, 4to. 13. ‘A Treatise of Miscellany Questions,’ &c., 1649, 4to (published by his brother, Patrick Gillespie, deals inter alia with questions which came before the Westminster Assembly). 14. ‘The Ark of the New Testament opened … by a Minister of the New Testament,’ &c., 1661, 4to, 2nd pt. 1677, 4to (published by, and sometimes ascribed to, his brother Patrick). 15. ‘Notes of Debates and Proceedings of the Assembly of Divines and other Commissioners at Westminster, from Feb. 1644 to Jan. 1645 … from unpublished manuscripts: edited by David Meek,’ &c., Edinburgh, 1846, 8vo (Wodrow intimates, in 1707, that Gillespie wrote six volumes of notes; in 1722 he specifies twelve or fourteen volumes; only two are extant). The ‘Works,’ edited by Hetherington, were collected in two vols., Edinburgh, 1843–6, 8vo.

[Memoir by Hetherington prefixed to Works; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scotic.; Livingstone's Divine Providence exemplified, 1754; Wodrow's Analecta (1842) and History (1828); Howie's Biographia Scoticana (1781), edition of 1862 (Scots Worthies), p. 353 sq.; Grub's Eccl. Hist. of Scotland, 1861, vols. ii. and iii.; Anderson's Scottish Nation, 1870, ii. 301; Mitchell and Struthers's Minutes of Westm. Assembly, 1874; Mitchell's Westm. Assembly, 1883.]

A. G.