Bryce, James (1767-1857) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 07
Bryce, James (1767-1857)

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BRYCE, JAMES, the elder (1767–1857), divine, was born at Airdrie in Lanarkshire 5 Dec. 1767. He was the son of John Bryce, descended from a family of small landowners settled at Dechmont in that county, and of Robina Allan, whose family, originally possessed of considerable property near Airdrie, had lost most of it in the troubles of the seventeenth century, in which they had espoused the covenanting cause.

The son was educated at the university of Glasgow, and in 1795 was ordained minister of the Scottish Antiburgher Secession Church. He was accused before the synod of latitudinarianism because he had minimised the difference between his own and other denominations of christians, had condemned the extreme assumption of power by the clergy, and had argued that the dogmatic creeds of the church received too much respect as compared with the scriptures. He was suspended for two years, and when restored to his functions, feeling some indignation at the intolerant spirit which then reigned in Scotland, he accepted an invitation to visit Ireland, where he ultimately settled in 1805 as minister of the antiburgher congregation at Killaig in county Londonderry. At this time the ministers of the antiburgher and burgher bodies in Ulster had been offered a share in the regium donum, an annual endowment paid by the lord-lieutenant to the presbyterian ministers (abolished in 1869). This had been distributed as a free gift without conditions; it was now for political reasons proposed greatly to increase its amount, but to require the recipient to first take the oath of allegiance, and to have the lord-lieutenant an absolute veto on its bestowal. The ministers of Bryce's denomination vehemently denounced these terms, but when they found that the stipend could not be otherwise obtained, they submitted and took it. He alone stood firm, holding that the requirements were dishonouring to Christ of the supreme head of the church, and tended to enslave a minister of religion and to degrade his office. Although separated thereby from his fellow-ministers, and unsupported by the parent church in Scotland, he maintained his principles, and thus, as others gradually gathered round him, became the founder of a branch of the presbyterian church which took the name of the Associate Presbytery of Ireland. This body was ultimately united with the Scottish united presbyterian church, which had by that time come to adopt similar views of spiritual independence. Mr. Bryce was a man of originality and literary culture, but he published little except several statements of his case and position in the question just described. He died at Killaig at the age of ninety, 34 April 1837, having preached twice on the sabbath preceding his death.

[Information from the family.]