Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ramsay, Andrew (1574-1659)

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650608Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 47 — Ramsay, Andrew (1574-1659)1896George Washington Sprott

RAMSAY, ANDREW (1574–1659), Scottish divine and Latin poet, born in 1574, was son of David Ramsay of Balmain, Kincardineshire, and Katherine Carnegie, of the house of Kinnaird; he was a younger brother of Gilbert Ramsay, who was created a baronet in 1625. He was probably educated at the university of St. Andrews. At an early age he went to France, where he studied theology, and was promoted to a professorship in the university of Saumur. Returning to Scotland, he was admitted minister of Arbuthnot in 1606, and in the same year was appointed by the general assembly constant moderator of the presbytery of Fordoun.

In 1612 he declined an offer of the Scots church at Campvere in Holland; and in 1614 he was appointed one of the ministers of Edinburgh. In 1615 he became a member of the high commission, and in 1617 he signed the protestation for the liberties of the kirk, but withdrew his name when he found that the king was offended. The earl marischal and the town of Aberdeen sought to have him appointed principal of Marischal College in 1620, but his translation was refused. In that year he was made professor of divinity in the college of Edinburgh, and also rector of the college, and held these offices till 1626, when he resigned them. At that time he became one of the ministers of the Grey Friars church. In 1629 he was made sub-dean of the Chapel Royal at Holyrood, and after the see of Edinburgh was erected in 1634 he was one of the chapter.

Ramsay had from early life shown much taste and aptitude for Latin poetry, and in 1633 he published sacred poems in Latin. They were written in the style of Ovid, and were commended by such a competent judge as Dr. Arthur Johnston. They were reprinted at Amsterdam in 1637 in the ‘Deliciæ Poetarum Scotorum,’ and according to William Lauder [q. v.], the literary forger, they formed one of the sources from which Milton plagiarised his ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘Regained.’

Ramsay disapproved of the innovations introduced into the church after the Perth assembly, but he submitted to them; and when Bishop Forbes, on his appointment to the see of Edinburgh, wrote to the ministers asking them to give the communion at the following Easter, and to each person kneeling, Ramsay promised obedience. From about that time, however, he took his stand with those who opposed any further innovations in worship or doctrine. For this he lost favour with the dignitaries of the church, and talked of ‘dimitting his ministry and retiring to his own lairdship.’

As sub-dean he must have acquiesced in the reading of the English service at the Chapel Royal, where it had been constantly used since 1617; but when all the other ministers of Edinburgh agreed to read Laud's book in the churches on 23 July 1637, Ramsay refused, and for this was silenced by the privy council. From that time he became a leader of the party soon to be known as covenanters, and in September he was sent to Angus and Mearns to rouse his own part of the country against the new liturgy and canons. In February 1638 he preached in the Grey Friars to prepare the people for signing the national covenant, and for years afterwards was one of Henderson's right-hand men. He took a prominent part in the general assembly of 1638, and was moderator of that court in 1640 when the Aberdeen doctors were deposed for refusing to take the covenant. At the same time, like Henderson, he was a zealous opponent of the Brownist innovations which crept into the church after 1638, and he disliked some of the changes both in government and worship which accompanied the adoption of the Westminster standards. In 1646 he was again appointed rector of Edinburgh University, and held the office for two years.

In 1648 the church came into collision with the state, and Ramsay, with many others, was deposed by the assembly of 1649, in which the rigid party was then dominant, for refusing to preach against ‘the engagement.’ Other charges brought against him were that he had spoken to the prejudice of presbyterian church government, and that he held ‘that the supreme magistrate, when the safety of the Commonwealth does require, may dispense with the execution of justice against shedders of blood,’ which probably meant that he disapproved of the wholesale slaughter of prisoners and political opponents as then practised. Ramsay's deposition excited great indignation in Edinburgh.

In 1649 or 1650 he wrote an apology, of which Wodrow gives an account in an unpublished biography. In this he states his opinions on church government, and ‘from the whole concludes that presbyterian government in Scotland since the late troubles hath much human in it.’ He also condemns the novelties in worship which had been introduced since 1638, and specifies the following: the laying aside of the Lord's Prayer, of the reading of forms of prayer, of keeping the churches open for the private devotions of the people, of godfathers in baptism, of the repetition of the creed, and of ministers kneeling for private prayer when they entered the pulpit.

In November 1655 Ramsay applied to the synod of Lothian (as the general assembly was not allowed to meet) to be restored to the exercise of the ministry. He stated that since his deposition he had waited patiently and had done nothing prejudicial to the authority of the church; he also rebutted the charges which had been brought against him. He considered that presbyterian church government might be abused, but he acknowledged the government itself to be grounded on the Word of God, and he was clearly opposed to all prelatical dominion.

By this time the ultra rigid men had separated from the church, and the synod, considering Ramsay's ‘case as extraordinary in regard of his age and great esteem for piety and learning,’ unanimously granted his request, ‘to the great contentment of much people.’ He was then over eighty years of age. He died on 30 Dec. 1659, at Abbotshall in Fife, the property of his son, and was buried there. He is described by a contemporary as one ‘who for his eminence in learning, diligence in his calling, and strictness in his conversation, was an ornament to the church of Scotland.’ He founded four divinity bursaries in the university of Edinburgh.

By his wife, Marie Fraser, he had four sons: (1) Sir Andrew [q. v.], lord provost of Edinburgh; (2) Eleazar; (3) David; (4) William.

His publications were: 1. ‘Oratio,’ 1600, published in France. 2. ‘Parænesis et Orationes de Laudibus Academiæ Salmuriensis’ (i.e. Saumur). 3. ‘Poemata Sacra,’ Edinburgh, 1633. 4. ‘Miscellanea et Epigrammata Sacra,’ Edinburgh, 1633. 5. ‘A Warning to come out of Babylon,’ in a sermon, Rev. xviii. 4, Edinburgh, 1638.

[Guthry's Memoirs; Baillie's Letters; Calderwood's Hist.; Lamont's Diary; Nicoll's Diary; Bower's Hist. of Univ. of Edin.; Grant's Hist. of Univ. of Edin.; Scott's Fasti; Records of Comm. of Gen. Assembly; Records of Synod of Lothian; Wodrow's manuscript Biogr., Glasgow Univ. Libr.; Stevenson's Hist. of the Church of Scotland.]

G. W. S.