This history of the church appeared in the The Reformed Presbyterian magazine. Jan. 1855 - July 1858, 1862-76.

Sketch of the Reformed Presbyterian Congregation of Castle Douglas.

[As a fitting companion to the brief Congregational Sketches which have appeared from time to time in the pages of this Journal, we give the following paper, kindly forwarded to us by a respected elder of the Castle-Douglas Congregation.]

ALTHOUGH the formation of the Reformed Presbyterian Congregation: of Castle-Douglas, or, as it was termed, " The Water of Urr Congregation” is but of recent date, in a district "flowered with martyrs," there have always been found those who had embraced their principles, and imbibed their spirit, and were worthy descendants of such noble sires. The Rev. John McMillan of Balmaghie testified against the defection of the Church from Reformation attainments, and was ejected by the Presbytery of the bounds in 1706; and so many of the parishioners still adhered to him as their minister, that they kept him in quiet possession of the manse for upwards often years, while Mr McKie, his successor, resided at Mains of Duchrae, two miles distant from the church. Mr McMillan was soon called to take the inspection of the Societies, when his visits to the district became only occasional. Between 1770-80 the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was dispensed by the four Johns at Bush-o'-Bield, near the Water of Urr. A great concourse of people assembled on the occasion, and the number of horses employed in conveying the worshippers is quite proverbial, for there were no gigs or carriages in those days. Some of the communion utensils were kindly lent by Mr Muirhead, then minister of Urr, who was strictly taken to task for the loan at a meeting of Presbytery, by Mr Duncan of Lochrutton. A member of court declared, “that the least they could do was to ask Mr Muirhead to acknowledge that he had done wrong in assisting them, and be admonished by the moderator." Mr Muirhead replied, "that he was in the habit of addressing two classes of persons — the servants of Christ, and the servants of the devil; and if the Presbytery could convince him that the Whigs were the servants of the devil, he would make the acknowledgment; but if they thought with him that they were the servants of Christ, he could not be wrong in assisting them." So the matter dropped in the Presbytery. However, on an early day, Mr Muirhead rode up to the door of the village smithy, at Lochfoot, and handed McLachlan, the blacksmith, who did a little in the gunsmith line, four old rusty pistols, telling him to put them in good working order. As he was turning his horse to go, McLachlan inquired if he would forward them to Urr Manse when they were ready? "Oh, no," said Mr Muirhead, "you are to take them up to your own parish manse; they are for Mr Duncan, to shoot the Whigs wi'."

The members of the Church in the district were under the pastoral inspection of Mr Reid, of Newton-Stewart, till about 1806, when they applied to the Presbytery for a disjunction, and were formed into a separate congregation. When the Rev. Andrew Symington was licensed in 1808, they tendered him a very harmonious call; but he accepted of that from Paisley, his native town. In a short time they next addressed a call to the Rev. John Sprott, which he also declined. Mr Sprott soon after emigrated. His peculiarly interesting letters from the Manse of Musquodoboit, in the Backwoods, with their reminiscences of the Covenanters, and of Galloway, are well known to our readers.

The infant congregation was carefully tended by the Presbytery, and in 1817 they gave a call to the Rev. John Osborne, a preacher of great promise, which call he accepted, and was ordained in the spring of 1818. He was introduced to his congregation by the Rev. Mr. Rogerson, who preached on the words, "Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it." All the expectations of the congregation in regard to their young minister were fully realised. His first communion was held at Dalbeattie, August 9, 1818. The young minister was assisted by Messrs Reid, Rowatt, Rogerson, and Jeffrey. There were two sermons each day, Mr Osborne preaching on Sabbath from, "But now once in the end of the world hath he appeared, to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself;" and Mr Rogerson in the evening, on, "For our conversation is in heaven." A goodly number were added to the fellowship of the congregation. Sermon was then at Dalbeattie, Castle-Douglas, and Springholm in turn, and sacraments the same.

The Rev. William Symington was ordained at Stranraer in 1819, and was very frequently an assistant at the communions. Some of the fathers of the congregation speak of these seasons as very refreshing, specially one held in the field, where the St Andrew Street station now stands, at which Mr Symington assisted when he was a bridegroom, and preached an admirable discourse in the evening, to a great crowd of listeners, on these words, " I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice."

During the former part of Mr Osborne's ministry the congregation improved greatly; for from the time when he preached the anniversary sermon of the "Leadhills Friendly Society," from the words, "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity," the name of John Osborne, announced to preach a special sermon, was security for a large audience. He was deservedly popular, but was also peculiar; as, when giving a practical testimony against what was too common in those days, viz., looking upon the ordinance of baptism as the "christening," or mere naming of the child, he dispensed the ordinance at Springholm, to the child of Mr Hannah, without pronouncing any name. The parent looked up to the minister, and said, "You have forgotten to name the child." He was not a little taken aback when Mr Osborne replied, '"The child is baptized; you can name it at your leisure." About 1827, when Mr Osborne's fame was great in Galloway, an anonymous pamphlet appeared, entitled. The Weighbeam, instituting a comparison between the respective talents of Mr Osborne and Mr Symington of Stranraer; in the end Mr Symington is made to kick the beam, as found wanting. To us who know the sequel, it shews the blindness of human partiality; for while the one remained the eloquent advocate of those principles which he bad espoused, and died at his post, the minister of the largest congregation in the Church, and Professor of Systematic Theology, the other soon embraced Arminian tenets, and so insidiously introduced them, that two-thirds of a congregation, whose members were considerably over 300, went with him when he was judicially excluded from the Reformed Presbyterian Church; and being driven about, after a chequered life, found a grave in the land of the stranger.

Three of the ruling elders remained firm to the principles of the Church — Messrs James Douglas, Margley; Nathanael Corrie, KnockvennieBridge, and John Crocket, Lochfoot. They were greatly strengthened and confirmed by a visit from Professor Andrew Symington, and a masterly discourse by Mr Symington of Stranraer, which was afterwards published under the title of "Salvation by Grace;" and were soon joined by Mr Matthew Craig, from Darvel, who has been a good friend to the congregation.

On Sabbath, July 31, 1831, while the services were being conducted at Springholm, the church at Castle-Douglas was broken open by some of the party who had deserted, which brought matters to a crisis; and after bearing the opinion of J. S. More, Esq., advocate, an arrangement was made with the party, giving them the church at Dalbeattie, and retaining the churches at Castle-Douglas and Springholm in connection with the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

At a meeting of the congregation, September 20, 1831, they agreed to petition for a moderation. The petition was granted, and the call came out for the Rev. Malcolm McLachlan, probationer, which he accepted, and was ordained May 23, 1832. He was introduced by his brother, the Rev William McLachlan, of Kilmalcolm. Mr McLachlan's ministrations were given in the proportion of two-thirds at Castle-Douglas, and one-third at Springholm. In perusing the records of the congregation, one is struck with the small number that came back, expressing their sorrow at following divisive courses, and seeking re-admission to the privileges of the Church. The congregation, which had been greatly reduced in numbers, improved under Mr McLachlan's ministry, who was a faithful and powerful preacher of the Gospel, and on good terms with the evangelical ministers in the district, taking his place on the platform at non-intrusion meetings during the "Ten Years' Conflict," and was uniformly a favourite speaker. On a lovely Sabbath, July 31, 1842, he preached at the martyrs' graves, Larghill, to the largest congregation we ever saw in Galloway, on the opening of the "fifth seal," giving a faithful exposition of the principles for which the Covenanters so nobly contended. Troublous times were soon the lot of the congregation, which ended, in 1845, by the dissolution of the pastoral tie.

Professor Symington was again two Sabbaths in the bounds of the congregation, and the Rev. John McDermid, of Dumfries, was very attentive during the vacancy. In August 1845 the Rev. William Symington, probationer, supplied two Sabbaths, preaching, on his first appearance, from these words, "If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." His ministrations were so acceptable that, in October following, they addressed to him a very harmonious call. Although he had calls from Lesmahagow and Colmonell, he accepted that from Castle-Douglas, and was ordained April 23, 1846. Mr McGill preached on the occasion, while Dr W. Symington ordained and gave the charges, suitably and affectionately addressing the young minister from, "Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus." On the following Sabbath Dr Symington addressed the congregation on their respective duties to one soother, from the words, "That there should be no schism in the body, but that the members have the same love one toward another." The young minister commenced his labours, preaching on the words, "Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ," &c. A ministry thus inaugurated told favourably on the congregation; its affairs were soon in good working order, and there was rest throughout all its borders.

The members being few in the Springholm district, the last Sabbath of every alternate month was deemed sufficient for them; and in a few years the interests of the congregation demanded that it be given up entirely, and the church was ultimately sold. Thus the "wilderness has become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is counted for a forest." While one half of the congregation is scattered over twelve parishes, the other half reside within the bounds of the parish of Kelton.

The young minister cultivated his vineyard very diligently, going out and in among his people with much acceptance, and was annually assisted at the communions by his father, who was always a welcome visitor, preaching many admirable discourses on such occasions. The last at which he was present was in June 1857, when be delivered an eloquent discourse on the Sabbath evening, the text being, " The glory which thou gavest me, I have given them." The congregation hung upon his lips with rapture as he discoursed of that glory which Jesus is to give the believer,—which was an apt sequel to the many interesting discourses delivered by him— the next meeting being before the throne, when Jesus shall welcome His own to the possession of that glory.

In December 1858 the Great Hamilton Street Congregation, Glasgow, renewed their call to Mr Symington to become colleague and successor to his father, which call he accepted, and took farewell of the congregation, as their pastor, on the last Sabbath of February 1859, aptly addressing them from these words, "Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you." The sound and judicious counsels were highly appreciated by the congregation, for the utmost good feeling had existed during the whole course of his pastorate, and many followed him with their prayers for success in his new sphere.

The congregation remained united; and, on the 20th May following, gave a unanimous call to the Rev. John Kay, minister at Airdrie, to become their pastor. This call Mr Kay accepted, and was inducted on August 11, 1859, Mr Symington, of Dumfries, preaching on the occasion, and Mr McGill inducting and giving the charges. On the following Sabbath Mr McDermid introduced Mr Kay, who commenced his pastoral labours among a people who had given him a hearty welcome. The same good feeling still exists between pastor and people. With 250 members, and 12 ruling elders, its affairs are in a prosperous state, never raising so much for religious purposes, and a spirit of love and affection pervading it - so much so that (so far as we are aware) not one left its fellowship in sympathy with the late secession. May they go on and prosper; and as the pastoral tie, in the cases of its former pastors, was dissolved by a Church court, may the present exist until the chief Shepherd calls the servant from his labours to his reward, when it will be his to say of many (would it were all of the congregation), "Here am I, and the children -whom Thou Hast given me."

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