McDowell, Benjamin (DNB00)
McDOWELL, BENJAMIN, D.D. (1739–1824), Presbyterian divine, son of Ephraim McDowell, an Irish emigrant, from Connor, co. Antrim, was born at Elizabethtown, New Jersey, on 25 Dec. 1739. He was educated at the universities of Princeton, New Jersey, and Glasgow. His parents had belonged to the 'reformed presbyterian' church, founded in 1743 by John Macmillan [q. v.] McDowell joined the established church of Scotland, and was licensed by the Glasgow presbytery on 3 July 1766. Visiting his relatives at Connor, co. Antrim, Ireland, he received a call to the congregation of Ballvkelly, co. Londonderry, and was there ordained by the Route presbytery on 3 Sept. 1766. He succeeded John Nelson, who had been compelled to resign on the ground of heterodoxy. McDowell soon appeared as a champion of conservative doctrine against John Cameron (1725-1799) [q. v.] The controversy was taken up by Alexander Colvill or Colville, M.D. [q. v.], to whom McDowell replied in an able defence of the Westminster doctrine. At this time 'new light' sentiments prevailed in the ministry of the general synod of Ulster ; McDowell even thought (1775) it might be necessary for the minority to preserve their orthodoxy by secession; the effect of his polemics was greatly to increase the strength of the conservative section.
In 1778 he accepted a call to Dublin, as the successor of John Baird, D.D. [q. v.] The Capel Street meeting-house (sometimes, though without any historical reason, called the Scots Church) had just been rebuilt, and had changed its name, having a new entrance into Mary's Abbey. Its congregation, however, was reduced to some half a dozen families. McDowell rapidly became a power in Dublin presbyterianism. He was ably seconded by his elder, Alderman Hutton (afterwards high sheriff and lord mayor), and the congregation of Mary's Abbey came to number two thousand souls. From 1783 he took a leading part in negotiations between the presbyterians and the government relating to 'regium donum' and other public Questions, acting with William Campbell, D.D. [q. v.], a prominent leader of the 'new light' party, who in his manuscript 'Sketches' (1803) has left a good-humoured account of their theological relations. In 1786 McDowell was elected moderator of the general synod, and in 1788 he was appointed by the synod, in conjunction with Robert Rodgers (d. 1791), minister of Corboy, co. Longford, to visit and inspect the presbyterian churches in the west and south-west of Ireland. The Edinburgh University gave him the degree of D.D. on 22 Jan. 1789. In 1791 he was in France, not drawn thither by any sympathy with the revolution. During the troubled years prior to 1798 he took no part in political agitation on either side, but organised weekly meetings for prayer, in view of the state of the nation.
On 4 Nov. 1791 James Horner (d. 1843) afterwards D.D., was ordained as his copastor. Service was regularly held on Christmas day, a very rare usage among presbyterians. On 14 May 18 1 3, as McDowellwas no longer equal to the duties of the co-pastorate, James Carlile, D.D. [q. v.], was ordained as his assistant and successor. McDowell died on 13 Sept. 1824, leaving a family. Horner preached his funeral sermon, which was published. A marble tablet to his memory was placed in his meeting-house (removed in 1864 to the new building in Rutland Square). Armstrong agrees with Horner's estimate of the excellences of his character, his fervid zeal, his gentleness, and his purity. He published: 1. 'The Requiring Sub- scription . . . defended; in answer to "The Catholic Christian" ... in a Letter to the Rev. J——n C——n,' &c, Glasgow, 1770, mo. 2. 'A Second Letter to the Rev. J——n C——n,' &c, Belfast, 1771, 12mo. 3. 'Observations on Theophilus Philander,' &c., Belfast, 1772, 12mo. 4. 'A Vindication of the Westminster Confession . . . from . . . two late Writers,' &c., Belfast, 1774, 12mo. 5. 'Letters of Importance ... to the . . . Synod of Ulster, &c. With an Appendix ... By Pistophilus Philecclesia,' &c, Belfast, 1775, 12mo. 6. 'The Doctrine of Salvation by Grace,' &c, Belfast, 1777, 8vo (two sermons on Eph. ii. 8, 9). 7. 'A Letter to the Ministers of the Synod of Ulster, by Amicus,' &c. [Dublin], 1807, 8vo. 8. 'The Nature of the Presbyterian Form of Church Government,' &c, Dublin, 1808, 12mo. Also separate sermons, 1783 and 1799, and parts of the ordination service for John Baird, 1812.
[Minutes of General Synod of Ulster, 1825, p. 9; Armstrong's App. to Martineau's Ordination Service, 1829, pp. 100 sq.; Cat. of Edinb. Graduates, 1858, p. 247; Reid's Hist. Presb. Church in Ireland (Killen), 1867, iii. 335 sq., 353, 390 sq.; WitheroVs Hist, and Lit. Memorials of Presbyterianism in Ireland, 1880, ii. 145 sq.; Killen's Hist. Congr. Presb. Church in Ireland, 1886, pp. 129 sq.; Irwin's Hist, of Presbyterianism in Dublin, 1890, pp. 268 sq.]