Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wilson, William (1690-1741)
WILSON, WILLIAM (1690–1741), Scots divine, born at Glasgow on 19 Nov. 1690, was the son of Gilbert Wilson (d. 1 June 1711), proprietor of a small estate near East Kilbride, who underwent religious persecution and the loss of his lands during the reign of Charles II. His mother, Isabella (d. 1705), daughter of Ramsay of Shielhill in Forfarshire, was disowned by her father for becoming a presbyterian. William, who was named after William III, was educated at Glasgow University. He was laureated on 27 June 1707, and was licensed to preach by the presbytery of Dunfermline on 23 Sept. 1713. On 21 Aug. 1716 he was unanimously called to the new or west church at Perth, and on 1 Nov. he was ordained. He soon obtained great influence in the town by the disinterestedness of his conduct, refusing to contest at law his claim to his grandfather's estate, and declining to receive his stipend because the town council desired to pay it out of money placed in their hands for charitable purposes. On the commencement of the ‘marrow controversy’ [see Boston, Thomas, 1677–1732] in 1717 he sympathised with the ultra-Calvinistic views of Boston and Ebenezer Erskine [q. v.], concurring with these ministers on 11 May 1721 in the ‘representation’ against the condemnation of ‘The Marrow of Modern Divinitie’ by the general assembly. In 1732 a further cause of difference arose. The general assembly passed an act ordaining that when the right of presentation was not exercised by the patron, the ministers should be elected by the heritors and elders, and not by the congregation. This displeased Erskine, Wilson, and others, who regarded the congregational right as sacred, and Erskine preached a vehement sermon on the subject, for which he was censured by the synod of Perth and Stirling. The censure was confirmed by the general assembly, and on 14 May 1733 Wilson joined with Alexander Moncrieff and James Fisher [q. v.] in a protest. The assembly, indignant at the terms of the protest, required a retractation, and failing to obtain it, the standing commission suspended Wilson and his three associates on 9 Aug. 1733, refused to hear a representation offered by Wilson and Moncrieff justifying their conduct, and on 12 Nov. declared them no longer ministers of the Scottish church. On 16 Nov. the four ministers put their names to a formal act of secession, and on 6 Dec. they constituted themselves an ‘associate presbytery.’ On 14 May 1734, however, the assembly, repenting their action, empowered the synods to reinstate the four ministers. Wilson was anxious for reconciliation, but further differences had arisen, especially through the support afforded by the assembly to patrons against the congregational veto. On 5 Nov. 1736 the associate presbytery appointed Wilson their professor of divinity, and on 15 May 1740 the seceders, now eight in number, were finally deposed. Wilson enjoyed the support of a large part of the people of Perth, who built a church for him and thronged to hear him. He was, however, deeply affected by the controversy and broken in health by his labours. He died at Perth on 8 Nov. 1741, and was buried at Perth, in Greyfriars' cemetery, where a monument was erected to his memory with an epitaph by Ralph Erskine [q. v.] Wilson married, on 20 June 1721, Margaret (d. 1742), daughter of George Alexander (d. 1713), an advocate, of Pepper Mill, Edinburgh. By her he had a son John, and two daughters, Isabella and Mary, who reached maturity.
Besides single sermons, Wilson published ‘A Defence of the Reformation Principles of the Church of Scotland,’ Edinburgh, 1739, 8vo; new ed. Glasgow, 1769, 8vo, and several collections of sermons:
- ‘The Day of the Sinner's believing in Christ a most remarkable Day,’ Edinburgh, 1742, 12mo.
- ‘The Father's Promise to the Son, a clear bow in the Church's darkest Cloud,’ Edinburgh, 1747, 8vo.
- ‘The Lamb's retinue attending him whithersoever he goeth,’ Edinburgh, 1747, 8vo;
2 and 3, with a few single sermons, were rebound in a larger collection, (4) ‘Sermons,’ Edinburgh, 1748, 8vo.
[Wilson's Works; Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scoticanæ, II. ii. 617–18; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xii. 223; New Stat. Acc. of Scotland, x. 111; Ferrier's Memoirs of Wilson, 1830; Eadie's Life of Wilson in United Presbyterian Fathers, 1849; Wilson's Presbytery of Perth, 1860, pp. 211–14; Brown's Hist. Account of the Rise and Progress of the Secession, 1793; The Representations of Ebenezer Erskine and James Fisher and of William Wilson and Alexander Moncrieff to the Commission of the late General Assembly, 1733; A Review of the Narrative and State of the Proceedings of the Judicatories against Erskine, Wilson, Moncrieff, and Fisher, 1734; Pilulæ Spleneticæ; or, a Laugh from a true blue Presbyterian, 1736; X. Y.'s Observations upon Church Affairs, 1734; Munimenta Glasguen. (Maitland Club), iii. 43; Struthers's Hist. of Scotland from the Union to 1748; Gib's Present Truth: a Display of the Secession Testimony, 1774.]