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M'GILL, WILLIAM, D.D. (1732–1897), Scottish divine, youngest son of William M'Gill, farmer, of Carsenestock, Wigtownshire, was born in 1732. After passing through schools at Monigaff and at Penmnghame, Wigtownshire, he entered Glasgow College, and graduated M. A. On 10 Oct. 1769 he was licensed by Wigtown presbytery, and from 12 June 1760 acted as assistant to Alexander Ferguson, minister of Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He was presented by the town council and session in April 1761 to the second charge in Ayr, and ordained there on 22 Oct. 1761. His colleague was William Dalrymple, D.D. [q. v.], Burns's 'D'rymple mild,' a kindred spirit with himself in disposition and in theological tendencies. Botn belonged to the 'moderate' party in the Scottish church, and were inclined to go further than their leader, William Robertson, D.D., the historian, inasmuch as they advocated (before 1780) the abolition of subscription.

In 1786, prior to which he had received the degree of D.D., M'Gill published an essay on 'The Death of Christ,' which exhibits marked divergence from the theory of atonement upheld in the standards of his church. He had evidently been much influenced by the earlier volumes of Priestley's 'Theological Repository' (1770-1), which he quotes with approval (pp. 542 sq.) Dalrymple, in a 'History of Christ' (1787), commended his colleague's work. No immediate action was taken by the authorities on his church, but in 1789 M'Gill excited some angry feeling by publishing a political sermon. On 16 April 1789 a complaint was presented to the synod of Glasgow and Ayr alleging that M'Gill's essay contained heterodox doctrine. The synod required the presbytery of Ayr to take up the case, and see if there were grounds for the complaint. On appeal to the general assembly the synod's order was quashed (1 June), but the presbytery was recommended to take steps to preserve purity of doctrine. The next meeting of presbytery (16 July) was attended by a concourse of people from far and near, and gave rise to Burns's satire 'The Kirk's Alarm,' William Auld, minister of Mauchline, Ayrshire ('Daddy Auld'), moved for a committee of inquiry, which was carried against a proposition by Thomas Thompson, minister of Dailly, for a committee of conference with M'Gill. On the committee appointed was Auld's elder, William Fisher ('holy Willie'). The committee met six times, and presented a report of fifty pages. M'Gill's case was conducted by Robert Aiken ('Orator Bob'), writer in Ayr. The presbytery on 30 Sept, referred the case to the synod, which on 14 Oct. directed the presbytery to take action. On 27 Jan. 1790 M'Gill handed in his answers to charges, and the case was again (24 Feb.) referred to the synod, M'Gill appealing against the reference. It was evident that the various courts were willing to shift the responsibility of dealing with the matter. At length M'Gill stopped proceedings by offering (14 April) an explanation and apology, which the synod accepted as satisfactory. His parishioners had warmly supported him, the provost of Ayr, John Ballantine, being 'deaf To the church's relief.' Burns's own judgment is expressed in the lines,

Doctor Mac, Doctor Mac,
Ye should stretch on a rack,
To strike evil-doers wi' terror;
To join faith and sense,
Upon ony pretence,
Is heretic, damnable error.

Priestley regrets that M'Gill 'was not more firm, especially if the general assembly would have supported him.' No further prosecution ensued, though one seems to have been meditated. On 12 May 1791 Theophilus Lindsey [q. v.] writes to William Turner of Newcastle, 'The second storm which threatened good Dr. M'Gill is happily blown over.'

M'Gill died of asthma on 30 March 1807, in his seventy-fifth year. He was a man of erect and commanding. stature. Lockhart mentions his 'cold, unpopular manners.' His character was probably marked by reserve, but it is certain that he was beloved by his flock; and he never made a personal enemy. Burns speaks of his 'close, nervous excellence.' He married, on 7 Nov. 1763, Elizabeth Dunlop of Ayr (d. 9 June 1786 and had three sons and five daughters, all of whom died before him except his fourth daughter, Mrs. Graham.

He published:

  1. 'A Practical Essay on the Death of Jesus Christ. In two parts. Containing, I. The History, II. The Doctrine, of His Death,' &c, Edinburgh, 1786, 8vo.
  2. 'The Benefits of the Revolution,' &c, Kilmarnock, 1789, 8vo (sermon). Also three single sermons, 1793-6.

[Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scoticanæ; Lockhart's Life of Burns; Rutt's Memoirs of Priestley, 1832, i. 72; Grub's Eccl. Hist, of Scotland, 1860, iv. 146; Theological Review, 1878, p. 457.]

A. G.