Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cameron, John (1724-1799)

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CAMERON, JOHN (1724–1799), presbyterian minister, was born in 1724 near Edinburgh. Having served his apprenticeship to a bookseller in Edinburgh, he entered the university and took his M.A. degree. He belonged to the ‘reformed presbyterians,’ or ‘covenanters,’ and was admitted a probationer of that body. Going as a missionary to the north of Ireland about 1750, he travelled in various districts of Ulster as an outdoor preacher. His labours as a ‘mountain minister’ met with large acceptance. In 1754 there was a division in the presbyterian congregation of Billy (otherwise Bushmills), co. Antrim, part adhering to their minister, John Logue, and part going off to form the new congregation of Dunluce. The Dunluce people offered to give a call to Cameron if he would leave the covenanters and join the regular presbyterian body. He consented. On 24 April 1755 the call was signed by 137 persons, and on 3 June Cameron was ordained by the presbytery of Route, having distinguished himself in the course of his ‘trials’ as an extemporary preacher. His subsequent course was scarcely in accordance with his antecedents. Though an active pastor, he found time for a renewal of his studies, and became noted as a writer of sermons, which were freely borrowed by his friends for use both in episcopal and presbyterian pulpits. He was dining one day with ‘a dignitary of the established church,’ when the conversation turned on Dr. John Taylor's ‘Scripture Doctrine of Original Sin,’ which Cameron had never seen. His host made him take the book home with him, though Cameron ‘would as soon have been accompanied by his Satanic majesty.’ A perusal of the book produced ‘a complete and entire change’ in his theology. He got much beyond Taylor, adopting humanitarian views of the person of Christ. Cameron also turned his attention to science. Being in want of a parish schoolmaster, he took into his house Robert Hamilton (1752–1831), the promising son of a neighbouring weaver, trained him for his work, and introduced him to the study of anatomy. Hamilton afterwards became a physician of some distinction at Ipswich, and showed his gratitude to Cameron by dedicating to him ‘The Duties of a Regimental Surgeon,’ 1794, 2 vols. In 1768 Cameron was moderator of the general synod of Ulster. His year of office was marked by the renewal of intercourse between the synod and the Antrim presbytery, excluded for non-subscription in 1726, and by the publication of Cameron's only acknowledged work, a prose epic. He wrote anonymously several works (often in the form of dialogues) attacking from various points of view the principle of subscription to creeds. The authorship of these able productions was no secret; but the extent of Cameron's doctrinal divergence from the standards of his church was not publicly revealed till nearly thirty years after his death. A paper rejecting the doctrine of the resurrection of the body was forwarded by Cameron to Archdeacon Blackburne, in expectation of a reply. Blackburne sent the paper to Priestley, who published it in his ‘Theological Repository,’ vol. ii. 1771, with the signature of ‘Philander’ (‘Philander,’ in later volumes, is one of the many signatures of Joseph Bretland). This led to a correspondence between Priestley and Cameron, and to the settlement of Cameron's son, William, as a button-maker in Birmingham. In 1787–9 Cameron got a double portion of regium donum; his means were always very small. He died on 31 Dec. 1799, and was buried in the parish churchyard of Dunluce, a picturesque spot on the road between Portrush and the Giant's Causeway. A striking elegy on his grave was written by Rev. George Hill, formerly librarian of Queen's College, Belfast. Besides his son, Cameron left a daughter, married to John Boyd of Dunluce. Cameron's writings were: 1. ‘The Policy of Satan to destroy the Christian Religion,’ n.d. (1767, anon.). 2. ‘The Messiah; in nine books,’ Belfast, 1768; reprinted with memoir, Dublin, 1811, 12mo. 3. ‘The Catholic Christian,’ &c. Belfast, 1769, 16mo (anon.). 4. ‘The Catholic Christian defended,’ &c. Belfast, 1771, 16mo (in reply to Benjamin m'Dowell, D.D., who attacked him by name. Cameron, however, published his defence with the pseudonym of ‘Philalethes’). 5. ‘Theophilus and Philander,’ &c. Belfast, 1772, 16mo (an anonymous reply to m'Dowell's rejoinder). 6. ‘Forms of Devotion,’ &c. Belfast, 1780. 7. ‘The Doctrines of Orthodoxy,’ &c. Belfast, 1782, 12mo (republished 1817, with title, ‘The Skeleton covered with Flesh’). 8. ‘The State of our First Parents,’ &c. (mentioned by Witherow). Posthumous was 9, ‘The Doctrine of the Holy Scriptures,’ &c. 1828, 16mo (known to have been edited by Arthur Nelson (d 20 June 1831), presbyterian minister of Kilmore, otherwise Rademon. The list of subscribers is almost entirely English).

[Monthly Rev. May 1776; Monthly Repos. (1831), 720; Bible Christian (1837), 203; Reid's Hist. Presb. Church in Ireland (Killen) (1867); iii. 330, 336; Witherow's Hist. and Lit. Mem. of Presb. in Ireland (2nd ser. 1880), 122, 145; Disciple (Belfast, May 1883), p. 127 (Article by Rev. W. S. Smith, Antrim), June 1883, p. 183.]

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