Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Reid, James Seaton

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REID, JAMES SEATON, D.D. (1798–1851), church historian, born in Lurgan, co. Armagh, was son of Forest Reid, master of a grammar school there, and Mary Weir, his wife. Left fatherless at an early age, James spent much of his youth at Ramelton, co. Donegal, under the care of his brother Edward, minister of the presbyterian congregation there. At the age of fifteen he entered the university of Glasgow, where he graduated M.A. in 1816, and afterwards attended the divinity hall. He was licensed to preach by the presbytery of Letterkenny in 1818, and in the following year was ordained, and inducted to the presbyterian church of Donegore, co. Antrim. Four years later he was translated to the presbyterian church at Carrickfergus. From this time, while discharging with the greatest diligence and faithfulness his heavy pastoral duties, he began his preparation for a history of the Irish presbyterian church. This was a task of much difficulty, as—to use his own words—‘there was then no history of any branch of the church in Ireland; nor was there any narrative of events connected with the religious interests of the country on which the least dependence could be placed.’ He had to collect his materials from the records of church courts and other manuscripts within his reach, and he made frequent visits to Dublin, London, and Edinburgh to pursue his researches in the great public libraries. In 1827 he was unanimously elected moderator of the synod of Ulster, in the twenty-ninth year of his age. It was a time of bitter controversy, and, though himself a staunch upholder of the catholic doctrine of the Trinity, Reid had won by his learning and moderation the respect of the Arian party, which was then on the eve of secession. During his term of office he preached before the synod a sermon on the controversy, which he published, with a preface and historical notes. In 1829 the ‘Orthodox Presbyterian’ was started by Reid and others, and he was a frequent contributor. In 1833 the university of Glasgow conferred on him the honorary degree of D.D. In the following year he published the first volume of the ‘History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.’ It was at once recognised as valuable, and the Royal Irish Academy unanimously elected him a member. The second volume, containing many original documents relating to the civil war and Cromwell's rule in Ireland, appeared in 1837, and in that year he was appointed professor of ecclesiastical history, church government, and pastoral theology, in the Royal Belfast College. In 1841 he was presented by the crown to the professorship of church history in the university of Glasgow. There he had an adequate salary, a great library at his command, and a long vacation of over six months in the year; and under these advantageous circumstances he continued to pursue his studies with zeal and industry. He spent part of 1845 and of 1846 on the continent, visiting the chief scenes of historic interest in Germany, France, and Italy. In 1848 he edited Murdock's translation of Mosheim's ‘Church History,’ to which he added many valuable notes.

Reid died on 26 March 1851, from an affection of the brain brought on by excessive study. A considerable portion of the third volume of his ‘History’ was then ready for the press, and it was completed by Professor Killen of Belfast. As an historian, Reid's chief merits were acuteness, painstaking research, impartiality, and clearness of statement, and his work has taken a permanent place in literature.

Besides the works mentioned above, Reid published in 1824 a ‘Brief Account of the Irish Presbyterian Church in the Form of Question and Answer;’ ‘The Sabbath, a Tract for the Times;’ and ‘Seven Letters to Dr. Elrington, Professor of Divinity in Trinity College, Dublin, “occasioned by his Animadversions in his ‘Life of Ussher’ on certain Passages in the History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland,”’ Glasgow, 1849.

Reid married, in February 1826, Elizabeth, daughter of Samuel Arrott, a Belfast surgeon, and had eleven children, of whom five survived him. In acknowledgment of his literary services a pension was settled by government on his widow and family.

[Evangelical Witness (Belfast) for 1868; Hist. of Presb. Congr. in Ireland, ed. Prof. Killen, Belfast, who says in the preface that the greater part of the information contained in this work was collected by Dr. Reid.]

G. W. S.