Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fisher, James

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

FISHER, JAMES (1697–1775), one of the founders of the Scottish secession church, was born on 23 Jan. 1697 at Barr in Ayrshire, where his father, Thomas, was minister, studied at Glasgow University, and was ordained minister of Kinclaven, Perthshire, in 1725. In 1727 he married the daughter of the Rev. Ebenezer Erskine [q. v.] of Portmoak, Kinross-shire, with whom he was afterwards associated as a founder of the secession body. Fisher concurred with Erskine and other likeminded ministers in their views both as to patronage and doctrine, and in opposition to the majority of the general assembly, by whom their representations were wholly disregarded. In 1732 Erskine preached a sermon at the opening of the synod of Perth, in which he boldly denounced the policy of the church as unfaithful to its Lord and Master. For this he was rebuked by the general assembly; but against the sentence he protested, and was joined by three ministers, of whom Fisher was one. The protest was declared to be insulting, and the ministers who signed it were thrust out of the church, and ultimately formed the associate presbytery. The people of Kinclaven adhered almost without exception to their minister, and the congregation increased by accessions from neighbouring parishes. Fisher was subsequently translated to Glasgow (8 Oct. 1741), but was deposed by the associate anti-burgher synod 4 Aug. 1748. In 1749 the associate burgher synod gave him the office of professor of divinity. His name is associated with a catechism designed to explain the 'Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly.' What is known as Fisher's 'Catechism' (2 parts, Glasgow, 1753, 1760) was in reality the result of contributions by many ministers of the body, which were made use of by three of the leading men, Ebenezer and Ralph Erskine and Fisher. Fisher survived the other two; and as the duty of giving a final form to the work, as well as executing lis own share, devolved on him, it is usually spoken of as his. It is a work of great care, learning, and ability; it has passed through many editions; it was long the manual for catechetical instruction in the secession church; and it was a favourite with evangelical men outside the secession like Dr. Colquhoun of Leith and Robert Haldane [q. v.] Fisher was the author of various other works, chiefly bearing on matters of controversy at the time, and illustrative of Erskine's work. Though not so attractive a preacher as the Erskines, nor so able an apologist as Wilson, yet by the weight of his character and his public position he exerted a very powerful influence on the secession, and contributed very materially to its progress and stability. He died 28 Sept. 1775, in the seventy-eighth year of his age.

[Scott's Fasti, pt. iv. 802; Memorials of the Rev. James Fisher, by John Brown, D.D. (United Presbyterian Fathers), 1849; M'Kerrow's Hist. of the Secession; Life and Diary of the Rev. E. Erskine, A.M., by Donald Fraser; Walker's Theology and Theologians of Scotland; McCrie's Story of the Scottish Church.]

W. G. B.