Crombie, James (DNB00)

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CROMBIE, JAMES, D.D. (1730–1790), presbyterian minister, eldest son of James Crambie (sic) by his wife May (Johnstoun), was born at Perth on 6 Dec. 1730. His father was a mason. In 1748 Crombie matriculated at St. Andrews, graduating A.M. in 1752. He studied for a short time at Edinburgh on leaving St. Andrews. He was licensed by Strathbogie presbytery on 8 June 1757 at Rothiemay. Here he acted as parish schoolmaster for some time. On 1 July 1760 he was presented to Lhanbryd, near Elgin, by the Earl of Moray, in whose family he had acted as tutor, and having been duly called was ordained at Lhanbryd on 11 Sept. by Elgin presbytery. He immediately applied to the Strathbogie presbytery to give ordination without charge to James Thompson, a licentiate, in order that Thompson might supply his place at Lhanbryd, and release Crombie for winter studies at Glasgow. The Strathbogie presbytery agreed, and Crombie spent the next four sessions at Glasgow, attending classes himself, and superintending the studies of his noble pupil. The minutes of the Elgin presbytery record a series of attempts to bring Crombie back to his duties at Lhanbryd, culminating in a formal censure on 1 March 1763. After this he seems to have remained quietly for some years in his country parish. In February 1768 a colleagueship in the first non-subscribing presbyterian congregation of Belfast became vacant. Doubtless on the recommendation of Principal Leechman of Glasgow, Crombie was put forward for the post. He received a call in December 1769 with a promised stipend of 80l., and 10l. for a house. He did not, however, desert his charge at Lhanbryd until 22 Oct. 1770, when he was already settled in Belfast as colleague to James Mackay. On Mackay's death (22 Jan. 1781) he became sole pastor. The congregation, which worshipped in a dilapidated meeting-house, was declining; Crombie met a suggestion for amalgamation with a neighbouring congregation by proposing the erection of a new meeting-house. This was carried into effect in 1783; Wesley, who preached in the new building in 1789, describes it as ‘the completest place of worship I have ever seen.’ Crombie did not intermeddle in theological disputes, but he ably defended his coreligionists from a charge of schism, and exhibited his divergence from the puritan standpoint by advocating Sunday drill for volunteers in time of public danger. In September 1783 he was made D.D. of St. Andrews. Crombie deserves great credit for his attempt to establish in Belfast an unsectarian college, which would meet the higher educational wants of Ulster. The idea was not a new one [see Campbell, William, D.D.], nor was Crombie the first to endeavour to carry it out [see Crawford, William, D.D.] His plan differed from Crawford's by making no provision for instruction in theology, thus anticipating the modern scheme of the Queen's Colleges. The prospectus of the Belfast Academy, issued on 9 Sept. 1785, at once secured the warm support of leading men in Belfast, of all denominations. Funds were subscribed, the Killeleagh presbytery (then the most latitudinarian of those under the general synod) sending a donation of a hundred guineas. The prospectus contemplated academic courses extending over three sessions. The scheme was ambitious, and included a provision of preparatory schools. The academy was opened in February 1786; Crombie, as principal, undertaking classics, philosophy, and history. The same political complications which led to the collapse of the Strabane Academy frustrated Crombie's original design. The Belfast Academy soon lost its collegiate classes; but as a high school it maintained itself, acquired great vogue under Crombie's successor, William Bruce (1757–1841) [q. v.], and still flourishes. Crombie's labours broke his strength, and his health declined; yet he continued to discharge all his engagements with unflagging spirit. On 10 Feb. 1790 he attended a meeting of the Antrim presbytery, at which two congregations were added to its roll, and he was appointed to preside at an ordination on 4 March. On 1 March he died. He was married on 23 July 1774 to Elizabeth Simson (d. 1824), and left four sons and one daughter. His portrait is in the possession of a descendant in America; a small copy is in the vestry of his meeting-house, representing a face of much firmness and sweetness of expression.

He published: 1. ‘An Essay on Church Consecration,’ &c., Dublin, 1777, 12mo (published anonymously in February); 3rd edit. Newry, 1816, 12mo (a defence of the presbyterians, who had lent their meeting-house to the episcopalians during the rebuilding of the church, against a charge of schism). 2. ‘The Propriety of Setting apart a Portion of the Sabbath for the purpose of acquiring the Knowledge and use of Arms,’ &c., Belf. 1781, 8vo. (answered by Sinclare Kelburn, in ‘The Morality of the Sabbath Defended,’ 1781; neither publication is mentioned in Cox's ‘Literature of the Sabbath Question,’ 1865). 3. ‘Belfast Academy,’ Belf. 1786, 8vo (an enlarged issue in January of the newspaper prospectus). Also two ‘Volunteer Sermons,’ Belfast, 1778 and 1779, 8vo.

[Wesley's Journal (8 June 1789); Belfast News-Letter, 5 March 1790; Memoir of Crombie in Disciple (Belfast), April 1883, p. 93 sq.; extracts (furnished for that memoir) from Perth Baptismal Register (in General Register House, Edinburgh), Glasgow Matriculation Book, records of St. Andrews University, minutes of Strathbogie, Elgin, and Antrim presbyteries; also additional information from Funeral Sermon (manuscript) by James Bryson, 14 March 1790, in Antrim Presbytery Library, at Queen's College, Belfast, and from records of First Presbyterian Church, Belfast. Witherow's History and Literary Memorials of Presbyterianism in Ireland, 2nd ser. 1880, p. 212, gives a brief notice of Crombie.]

A. G.