Opponents of John Hepburn and the Hebronites after the Revolution #History #Scotland

Hepburn's Chair

The activities of John Hepburn among the Society people after the Revolution of 1688 to 1690, drew hostile comment in several dying testimonies of the “Continuing Society people” that were also known as the McMillanites post 1706. His opponents outlined what they found objectionable about Hepburn and his followers, the so-called Hebronites:

From ‘The Dying Words of Robert Currie, Wright in Tinwald’ who died on 6 June, 1702:

‘And as for Mr, John Hepburn, who pretends to keep at a distance from the pollutions of the times, and from the rest of the present ministers, which he has very often cried out against; and yet to this day he has -never declined them. He has proven a great enemy to the poor witnessing remnant, in dividing and scattering them, who were aiming too keep up a standing testimony for Christ and his covenanted cause.

For my part, I witness in my last words (as I did in my former practice,) as a dying man against him, and his adherents, for what is above mentioned; and for their continual practical owning of sinful time-serving courses, both in church and state, by paying them stents, hearth-money, pole-money, and money for furnishing out soldiers: and for paying stipends to the present ministers, or rather intruders; and whatever other acknowlegements they pay unto them in other things.

And for their contempt of that particular point in our Sanquhar declaration, emited August 10. 1692, because it strikes against them. Ah! lamentable, this is far from a seeing their fault, and turning from, their sin.’ (A Collection of Dying Testimonies, 61.)

The passage in the 1692 declaration that referred to Hepburn and his faction in the “Continuing” Society people was probably this one:

‘And finally, we desire all Persons, of whatsoever new party they be, minister or other, that would appear more refined than the rest, and pretending to act separately from our enemies and antagonists, whilst yet really incorporate with them, and carrying on their designs more effectually, though more smoothly; and instrumental, to break and divide us more than any, as if purposely sent forth by the rest for that effect; not to mistake us, as if what we have said in order to the rest, were not applicable to them. But on the contrary, that we look upon their course, as accompanied with many aggravations that others are not capable of, and so, as more loathsome to God ought to be the more detestable to us.’

The Testimony of Janet Hannay in Troqueer parish.
She had heard Hepburn preach in c.1690. She was not forthcoming on what the faults she found in Hepburn, but she does seem to indicate that some of her ‘relations’ attempted to ‘instigate’ her to hear Hepburn at a later date:

‘Where continuing for a certain time, after the death of that blessed martyr foresaid [in February, 1688], even till the revolution [of 1689], and some space after, without hearing of any; frae once the three that were our ministers turned aside [i.e., William Boyd, Thomas Linning and Alexander Shields in 1690]; till, partly by advice, and partly to evite that odious calumny of casting off the gospel, I went and heard Mr. John Hepburn, and thereafter one Mr. Somervaile twice [1691 to 1696], who was entered to the parish I lived in: yet praise, praise and thanks be to the Lord, because he recovered me from them also, and all others, by that great word born in upon me; “The leaders of this people cause them to err, and they that are led of them are destroyed.” Isa. ix. 16. From which time to the present, I never durst, for my soul, venture to hear any of them again, how great and faithful soever they were called, nor for the instigation of relations thereunto. Then, and at that time, (notwithstanding these my declining and backslidings from him,) it pleased the Lord to bring me into that poor despised, yet desirable remnant, way, and testimony;’ (A Collection of Dying Testimonies, 69-70.)

The Testimony of Rachel Black, died Dumfries 28 June, 1705:

‘I witness against Mr. John Hepburn, for his unfaithfulness and unstedfastness , and for his not owning and maintaining the testimony and truths as held forth in the word of God, and the practice of the church of Scotland; and as now owned and maintained by a poor despised remnant thereof [that adhered to the Sanquhar Declaration of 1692].

And also, against whomsoever pays stents, stipends, hearth, or pole-money, or any exactions that may interprate an owning of their kirk or state; as they now stand in opposition to Christ’s kingly power in his own house, and the privileges of the church, which standeth in the exercise of a free court, granted and given by Christ unto his bride or spouse, having no dependence on any court under the cape of heaven. They have incapacitated themselves of being owned as such in these lands, without manifest breach of covenant; by the owning of which, it were an owning of his enemies, for his friends.’ (A Collection of Dying Testimonies, 54-5.)

The Testimony of Jean Irvine in Roucan, Torthorwald parish, Dumfriesshire, 8 July, 1705:

‘[testified] against Mr. Hepburn, for his being never down-right for God, and faithful in owning and maintaining of the testimony of Christ, his cause and truth, as held forth from the word of God, and the practice of the church of Scotland, of old and of late, now owned by the remnant.

And, finally, I leave my testimony against whosoever [like the Hebronites] pays stent, stipends, hearth-money, or pole-money, or any exactions which may interprate an owning of their present kirk and state, as they are now circumstantiated , seeing they have incapacitated themselves to be owned in these lands, without manifest breach of covenant. Moreover, I leave my testimony against all unfaithfulness in the remnant; and all such who live uncontentedly, indifferently, or are neutral in the matters of God.’ (A Collection of Dying Testimonies, 58.)

The dying testimony of John Mathieson (d.1710) in Rosehill, Closeburn parish, also mentions Hepburn:

‘More particularly [than testifying against William of Orange etc.], I leave my testimony to, and approves of the four protestations, given in at four several times, against the intruders on this parish [of Closeburn]; and they were but little esteemed of either by one or other. Yet I bless the Lord for what hand I had therein, and the sweet peace I found thereby. And I testify against all that fainted then, and left me when I protested’. *

“* These four protestations he here speaks of, were these he and the few with him gave in against four different ministers, then called to the parish, viz. Mr. Elder, Mr. Hepburn, Mr, Laurie of Penpont, which protestations are now lost.’

The local Society people appear to have heavily contested the settling of several ministers in Closeburn parish and it is not clear if the parish truly had a minister in residence for any period of time from the Revolution in late 1688 to 1718.

The four ministers that Mathieson referred to were:

Mr James Elder, who had accepted toleration under James VII. He was minister of Keir parish in Penpont Presbytery from 1691.

John Hepburn was not formally called to Closeburn, but probably preached in the parish on an irregular basis during the frequent vacancies that afflicted the charge. From his testimony, it is clear that Mathieson personally protested about Hepburn’s presence, but that his opinion of him was not shared by other Society people who then ‘left me when I protested’.

Robert Lawrie was called to Closeburn in November, 1692, and ordained on 1 November, 1693. However, he died a month later.

Six months later, his brother, Thomas Lawrie, followed him as the minister of Closeburn. He was presented by the presbytery in August 1694 and ordained in September. He was deposed for adultery in 1709, but after 1712 began to hold field meetings in Closeburn parish. How long Lawrie was in post is unclear, but he appears to be the most successful of the ministers in terms of the duration of tenure. He did face opposition from another minister, John McMillan, who conducted baptisms and marriages among the Society people of the parish from April, 1707.

After the deposition of Thomas Lawrie in 1709, there was a very long gap in which no Established Church minister filled the vacant charge until 1718.


~ by drmarkjardine on August 21, 2016.

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