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Abernethy
Abernethy
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was Susannah Jordan, leaving one son and three daughters. A ‘Diary’—passages of which are given in Duchal's ‘Life’—begun at this date (Feb. 1712–13) reveals how intense was his desolation and sorrow, and equally how yearning and devout was his ‘walk with God.’ His passionate, because compassionate, concern for the Roman Catholics was most remarkable, and his labours abundant. In 1717 he was again involved in competing claims for him as minister. First there came a call from the congregation of Usher's Quay, Dublin, in conjunction with the Rev. Mr. Arbuckle. Then, almost simultaneously, a like ‘call’ from the old congregation at Belfast. In the face of both, Antrim desired to retain its beloved pastor. As before, the synod decided the matter and assigned him to Dublin. This threw Abernethy into no common agitation and perplexity. After tarrying three months at Usher's Quay on an experimental or observing visit, he felt that Antrim had the first claim upon him, and resolved accordingly, spite of the appointment of the general synod. When his resolution to remain at Antrim was bruited abroad, it was as though an ecclesiastical earthquake shook the Irish presbyterian church. Such a thing as disobedience to a decision of the supreme court of the church never had been heard or dreamed of as possible. But Abernethy stood firm; and from less to more the thing grew to an assertion of resistance to mere authority, or, as it ultimately ran, ‘the tyrannical exercise of ecclesiastical power.’ His convictions were coloured, if not shaped, by Bishop Hoadly's famous sermon on the ‘Kingdom of Christ.’ Henceforward he stood forth uncompromisingly for religious freedom, and disowned the sacerdotal assumptions of church courts, higher or lesser. The minister of Antrim promulgated his new opinions in an association of like-minded presbyterians, called The Belfast Society. The issue was a division of the one camp of Presbyterianism into two, known historically as subscribers and non-subscribers. Abernethy was at the head of the latter.

In 1719 Abernethy's opinions and sentiments found memorable expression in a sermon on the text (Romans xiv. 5): ‘Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind,’ in which he nobly vindicated private judgment and christian liberty; but it was as fuel added to fire. The jealousies waxed fast and furious. A breach or schism was threatened. To arrest it if possible, he published ‘Seasonable Advice to the contending Parties in the North.’ This was accompanied with a ‘Preface’—an admirable one—by Boyse and Chappin, of Dublin, and others. The effort was vain. In 1726 the ‘non-subscribers’ were ‘cut off’ from the ministry and membership of the Irish presbyterian church, and formed themselves into a separate presbytery. Sorrowful heart-burnings and feuds followed. There can be no question that, consciously or unconsciously, Abernethy now sowed the seed whose blissful or baleful harvest (according to opinion) had to be cut down by the illustrious Dr. Henry Cooke fully a century later. But the ‘non-subscribing’ presbyterians still exist as unitarians.

In 1730 he accepted a call to Wood Street congregation in Dublin, on the death of Mr. Boyse. And here his fame as a pulpit orator won back for him his original influence. His sermons were now noted for their pathos. Here he married a Miss Boid (or Boyd), and was again happy in his choice.

In 1731 came on the greatest of all the controversies in which Abernethy engaged. The occasion was the notorious Test Act; but the contest grew to a demand for repeal of all tests and disabilities. The stand taken was ‘against all laws that, upon account of mere differences of religious opinions and forms of worship, excluded men of integrity and ability from serving their country.’ He was far ahead of his age. He had to reason with the episcopal church, which held presbyterians for ‘schismatics,’ and with others who had to be convinced that it was possible for ‘protestant dissenters’ and Roman Catholics to be ‘men of integrity and ability.’ John Abernethy's is a venerable name to all who love freedom of conscience and opinion. He died in December 1740. The works of Abernethy, other than his ecclesiastical writings, are still noticeable. The ‘Biographia Britannica’ furnishes full details. His ‘Discourses on the Divine Attributes’ and his ‘Posthumous Sermons’ (4 vols.) are still valued. His collected ‘Tracts’ (1751), wherein he measures swords with Swift himself triumphantly, carry in them truths and principles greatly in advance of the age.

[Life, by Duchal, prefixed to Sermons (1762); Kippis's Biographia Britannica; Irish Presbyterian Church; Reid's Presbyterian Church in Ireland, iii. 234, seq.; MS. Diary, 6 vols. 4to.]

A. B. G.

ABERNETHY, JOHN (1764–1831), an eminent surgeon, was born in London 3 April 1764, the son of John Abernethy, a London merchant belonging to an Irish family of Scotch extraction, whose father and grandfather, both of the same name, were Irish

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