Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Morison, James (1816-1893)

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MORISON, JAMES (1816–1893), founder of the evangelical union, son of Robert Morison (d. 5 Aug. 1855, aged 74), minister of the 'united secession' church, was born at Bathgate, Linlithgowshire, on 14 Feb. 1816. He was educated at the Edinburgh University, where his intellectual power attracted the notice of John Wilson ('Christopher North'), and in 1834 he entered on his training for the ministry in Edinburgh at the divinity hall of the 'united secession' church, under John Brown, D.D. (1784–1858) [q. v.] After license (1839) he preached as a probationer at Cabrach, Banffshire, and other places in the north of Scotland. His interest in the current movement of evangelical revival led him to study the doctrine of atonement; he embraced the view (rare among Calvinists) that our Lord made atonement, not simply for the elect, but for all mankind. In Nairn, Tain, Forres, and at Lerwick in the Shetland Islands, he preached with great success, and embodied his views in a tract, published in 1840, and entitled 'The Question, "What must I do to be saved?" answered by Philanthropes.' In the same year he received a call to the 'united secession' church, Clerk's Lane, Kilmarnock. On 29 Sept., the day appointed for his ordination by Kilmarnock presbytery, proceedings were delayed by the objections of two of its members, but Morison was ordained after explaining that he did not hold 'universal salvation,' and promising to suppress his tract. He acquiesced, however, in its being reprinted by Thomas William Baxter Aveling [q. v.], a congregational minister in London, and, from the reprint, editions were issued (not by Morison) in Dunfermline and Kilmarnock. Hereupon he was cited before the Kilmarnock presbytery, and suspended from the ministry on 9 March 1841. He appealed to the synod, the supreme court of his church, and, though his cause was advocated by Brown, his tutor, the suspension was confirmed (11 June) on the motion of Hugh Heugh, D.D. [q. v.] Morison protested, and declined to recognise the decision; he was enthusiastically supported by his congregation, to which in two years he added 578 members. His father, who shared his views, was suspended in May 1842; and in May 1843 there were further suspensions of Alexander Cumming Rutherford of Falkirk, and John Guthrie of Kendal.

The four suspended ministers, in concert with nine laymen, at a meeting in Kilmarnock (16-18 May 1843), formed the 'evangelical union.' They issued a statement of principles, showing a growth of opinion, inasmuch as they had now abandoned the Calvinistic doctrine of election. Their movement was reinforced by the expulsion (1 May 1844) of nine students from the theological academy of the congregationalists at Glasgow, under Ralph Wardlaw, D.D. [q. v.]; and by the disownment (1845) of nine congregational churches holding similar views. From the 'relief church' in 1844 John Hamilton of Lauder joined the movement; as did William Scott in June 1845, on his expulsion from Free St. Mark's, Glasgow. Not all who thus came over to Morison's views, and were hence known as Morisonians, became members of the ' evangelical union; 'but they co-operated with it, and aided in the maintenance of a theological academy, esta- blished in 1843 by Morison, who held the chair of exegetical theology, and remained principal till his death. It is remarkable that the 'evangelical union' adopted no uniform system of church government. The union was an advisory body, not a judicature, and it included congregations both of the presbyterian and the congregational order, thus reproducing the policy of the 'happy union' originated in London in 1690 [see Howe, John, 1630-1705], but improving on it by the admission of lay delegates.

In 1851 Morison left Kilmarnock for Glasgow, where, in 1853, North Dundas Street Church was built for him. In 1855 his health temporarily gave way; from 1858 he was assisted by a succession of colleagues. He received the degree of D.D. in 1862 from the Adrian University in Michigan, and in 1883 from Glasgow University. In 1884 he retired from the active duties of the pastorate. Public presentations were made to him in 1864, and in 1889 on the occasion of his ministerial jubilee. In April 1890 an ineffectual attempt was made in the Paisley presbytery of the united presbyterian church (into which the 'united secession' church was incorporated in 1847) to recall the sentence of 1841; but in July 1893 Morison received a complimentary address signed by over nineteen hundred laymen of the united presbyterian church.

He died on 13 Nov. 1893 at his residence, Florentine Bank, Billhead, Glasgow, and was buried on 16 Nov. in the Glasgow necropolis. He married, first, in 1841, Margaret (d. 1875), daughter of Thomas Dick of Edinburgh, by whom he had three children, the eldest being Marjory, married to George Gladstone, his assistant (from 1876) and successor; his eldest son, Robert, died of congestion of the lungs in 1873 on his passage to Australia. He married, secondly, in 1877, Margaret Aughton of Preston, who survived him. His portrait, painted by R. Gibb, R.S.A., was presented to him in 1889.

Morison was a man of real intellectual power and great gentleness of character. Probably of all Scottish sect makers he was the least sectarian. His personal influence and that of his writings extended much beyond the community which he headed, and, in a way none the less effective because steady and quiet, did much to widen the outlook of Scottish theology. Always a hard student, he had especially mastered the expository literature of the New Testament; and his permanent reputation as a writer will rest on his own commentaries, which are admirable alike for their compact presentation of the fruits of ample learning, and for the discriminating judgment of his own exegesis. The 'evangelical union,' which has been termed 'a successful experiment in heresy,' now numbers between ninety and one hundred churches, adhering to the well-marked lines of evangelical opinion laid down by its founder. Morison's original church removed from Clerk's Lane to Winton Place, Kilmarnock, in 1860; the old building was sold to a dissentient minority which left the 'evangelical union' in 1885.

He published: 1. 'The Question, "What must I do?"' &c., 1840; later edition, with title 'The Way of Salvation,' 1843, and 'Safe for Eternity' [1868]. 2. 'Not quite a Christian,' &c., 1840, often reprinted. 3. 'The Nature of the Atonement,' &c., 1841, often reprinted. 4. 'The Extent of the Atonement,' &c., 1841, often reprinted. 5. 'Saving Faith,' &c., 1844, reprinted. 6. 'A Gospel Alphabet,' &c., 1845. 7. 'The Declaration, "I Pray not for the World,"' &c., 1845, reprinted. 8. 'A Gospel Catechism,' &c., 1846, reprinted. 9. 'The Followers of … Timothy,' &c., 1847 (?). 10. 'An Exposition of the Ninth Chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Romans,' &c., 1849; new edition, re-written, with addition of tenth chapter, 1888. 11. 'Wherein the Evangelical Unionists are not Wrong,' &c., 1849. 12. 'Vindication of the Universality of the Atonement,' &c., 1861 (a reply to 'The Atonement,' by Robert Smith Candlish, D.D. [q. v.]). 13. 'Biblical Help towards Holiness,' &c., 1861. 14. ' Apology for … Evangelical Doctrines,' &c., 1862. 15. 'Questions on the Shorter Catechism,' &c., 1862. 16. 'A Critical Exposition of the Third Chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Romans,' &c., 1866. 17. 'A Practical Commentary on … St. Matthew,' &c., 1870. 18. 'A Practical Commentary on … St. Mark,' &c., 1873. 19. 'Exposition and Homiletics on Ruth,' &c., 1880 (in 'The Pulpit Commentary.') 20. 'St. Paul's Teaching on Sanctification,' &c., 1886. 21. 'Sheaves of Ministry; Sermons and Expositions,' &c., 1890. From 1854 to 1867 he edited and contributed largely to 'The Evangelical Repository,' a quarterly magazine.

[Morisonianism, by Fergus Ferguson, in Religions of the World, 1877, pp. 275 sq.; Irving's Book of Scotsmen, 1881, pp. 367 sq.; Memorial Volume of the Ministerial Jubilee of Principal Morison, 1889; Evangelical Union Jubilee Conference Memorial Volume, 1892; Christian News, 18 and 25 Nov. and 2 Dec. 1893; North Dundas Street Evangelical Union Church Monthly, December 1893; information from his son, Thomas Dick Morison, esq., and from the Rev. George Cron.]

A. G.