Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wardlaw, Ralph

WARDLAW, RALPH (1779–1853), Scottish congregationalist divine, fourth son of William Wardlaw, merchant and bailie in Glasgow, by his second wife, Anne Fisher, was born at Dalkeith, Mid-Lothian, on 22 Dec. 1779. He was descended paternally from the Wardlaws of Pitreavie, Fifeshire, to which family Henry Wardlaw [q. v.], bishop of St. Andrews, belonged. On his mother's side he could claim direct descent from James V, through his natural son, Lord Robert Stewart, earl of Orkney [q. v.] Anne Fisher was the granddaughter of Ebenezer Erskine [q. v.], founder of the secession church, and the daughter of his associate, James Fisher [q. v.] When Ralph was six months old his father removed to Glasgow. He was educated at the grammar school of Glasgow, and matriculated in October 1791 at the university, where he had a distinguished career. Having decided to study for the ministry, he entered the theological school in connection with the associate secession (burgher) church, and began his studies under George Lawson (1749–1820) [q. v.] at Selkirk in 1795. During his residence there, however, he came under the evangelical influence of James and Robert Haldane [q. v.], and in 1800, on the completion of his studies, he severed his connection with the seceders and became a congregationalist, joining the independent church recently founded in Glasgow by Greville Ewing [q. v.] Wardlaw's power as a preacher was first displayed at the meetings held by the Haldanes in Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee, and efforts were made to induce him to settle in Perth and form a congregation there. Meanwhile, his friends in Glasgow had begun to erect an independent chapel for him in that city; and on 16 Feb. 1803 the North Albion Street chapel was opened. In 1819 it was found necessary to build a larger chapel in West George Street (now the offices of the North British Railway Company), and the new building was opened on 25 Dec. Here Wardlaw continued to preach with great success until his death. In 1811 the congregationalists formed a training college for students of that denomination, under the name of the Glasgow Theological Academy, and Wardlaw was appointed professor of systematic theology, which post he held for many years. He was long secretary to the Glasgow auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and took an active interest in the London Missionary Society, frequently delivering sermons and speeches in connection with these institutions in London. Wardlaw received the degree of D.D. in September 1818 from Yale College, Connecticut. In 1828 he declined to become candidate for the chair of mental and moral philosophy in London University. During the same year the post of president and theological tutor of the dissenting college of Rotherham was offered to him and refused. In 1836 a proposal was made that he should accept office as principal and professor of theology in Spring Hill College, Birmingham, then in course of erection, but, after mature deliberation, this position was declined in the following year. Another attempt was made in 1842 to induce Wardlaw to settle in England. He was proposed for the theological chair in Lancashire Independent College, Manchester, but preferred to remain with his Glasgow congregation. His later years were disturbed by calumnious charges impeaching his integrity in money affairs, but from the aspersions cast upon him he was triumphantly cleared. On 16 Feb. 1853 his congregation celebrated the jubilee of its foundation, and of Wardlaw's connection with it. He maintained that connection until his death, which took place at Easterhouse, near Glasgow, on 17 Dec. 1853. He married, in August 1803, Jane Smith, daughter of the secession minister at Dunfermline, and had eleven children, two of whom died in infancy. He was buried in the necropolis of Glasgow. His portrait, by Macnee, belongs to the Elgin Place Church, Glasgow.

As a preacher Wardlaw held a prominent place in Scotland, but it was by his theological writings that he was most widely known both in Great Britain and in America. He took an active part in the anti-slavery agitation, and in 1838 was presented to the queen as the bearer of an address from the women of Scotland praying for the abolition of slavery in the colonies. It was on Wardlaw's invitation that Harriet Beecher Stowe visited Scotland in 1853.

Wardlaw's principal publications were: 1. ‘Three Lectures on Romans iv. 9–25,’ 1807. 2. ‘Essay on Lancaster's Improvements in Education,’ 1810. 3. ‘Discourses on the Socinian Controversy,’ 1814. 4. ‘Unitarianism incapable of Vindication,’ 1816. 5. ‘Essay on Benevolent Associations for the Poor,’ 1817. 6. ‘Expository Lectures on Ecclesiastes,’ 1821. 7. ‘Sermons in one volume,’ 1829. 8. ‘Essays on Assurance of Faith, and Extent of the Atonement and Universal Pardon,’ 1830. 9. ‘Christian Ethics,’ 1832. 10. ‘Lectures on the Voluntary Question,’ 1835. 11. ‘Friendly Letters to the Society of Friends,’ 1836. 12. ‘National Church Establishments examined,’ 1839. 13. ‘Lectures on Female Prostitution, its Nature, Extent, Effects, Guilt, Causes, and Remedy,’ 1842. 14. ‘Memoir of the Rev. John Reid,’ 1845. 15. ‘Congregational Independency: the Church Polity of the New Testament,’ 1847. Wardlaw contributed introductory essays to several of the volumes in Collins's ‘Select Christian Authors Series,’ published in 1829–30. His published sermons on special occasions are fully noticed in William Lindsay Alexander's ‘Memoir,’ as are also his contributions to the ‘Congregational Magazine,’ the ‘Eclectic Review,’ and other periodicals. In the first years of his ministry he compiled a hymn-book for use in his congregation, contributing eleven hymns of his own, several of which have since been included in the principal English and Scottish hymnals.

[Alexander's Memoir of the Life and Writings of Ralph Wardlaw, 1856; Glasgow Young Men's Mag. February 1854; The Necropolis of Glasgow, 1858.]

A. H. M.