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LIFE AND CHARACTER
JAMES MACKNIGHT, D.D.
EW men have distinguished themselves, by greater
ardour and perseverance, in the study of the Sacred Scriptures, than the Author of the following Work. Pofseffed of a vigorous and penetrating mind, he was indefatigable in applying its best efforts, almost exclusively, to the illustration of those inspired writings which contain the sublime doctrines of our faith and hope ; and on the result of his critical labours, the Public has pronounced a most favourable judgment. To those, accordingly, who feel an interest in the success of religious truth, the noblest department of human knowledge, it is presumed that a brief account of the life and character of Dr. MACKNIGHT will not prove unacceptable. Some information of this kind is, indeed, commonly regarded as a tribute due to the memory of those who have distinguished 'themselves in the walks of learning, and may
be useful to animate the exertions of others who dedicate their talents to similar pursuits. — The following
fhort biographical notice, of which the particular facts and dates were furnished by Dr. MACKNIGHT's family, at the time of publishing the octavo edition of his Har. mony of the Gospels, was at first intended as an outline of a fuller account to be prepared for this edition of his work on the Apostolical Epistles. After the most careful enquiry, however, it has been found, that no further particulars, which seemed worthy of the public attention, could be learned, respecting either his early studies, or the subsequent occurrences of his life. The sketch alluded to, is therefore still retained here, in its original form.
Dr. JAMES MACKNIGHT was born on the 17th of September 1721. His father, Mr. William MacKNIGHT, Minister at Irvine, was a native of Ireland, where his ancestors, descended from the family of MʻNAUGHTANE in the Highlands of Scotland, had refided for more than a century, and where some of his relations still remain. Mr. WILLIAM MACKNIGHT early displayed very popular talents as a preacher; and having, it is said, accidentally officiated in the church of Irvine, sometime after the death of the former incum. bent, he
so much satisfaction to the hearers, that he was soon appointed to supply the vacant charge. In this situation he continued during life, universally esteemed for genuine piety, purity of morals, and integrity of character.--He married ELIZABETH GEMMIL, daughter of Mr. GEMMIL of Dalraith ; a small property in the neighbourhood of Kilmarnock, which had been in pofsession of the same family for several centuries, and
which Dr. MACKNIGHT afterwards inherited in right of his mother.
By this marriage, Mr. WILLIAM MACKNIGHT had two daughters and four fons; of whom the youngest, and only one now alive, is THOMAS MACKNIGHT Esq. of Ratho; a gentleman, who in early life signalized himself, during the American war, by the most eminent services as a Loyalist; and who, since his return to his native country, has long been distinguished by unusual activity in the prosecution of agricultural improvements, on the most liberal and extensive scale.
Mr. James MACKNIGHT,. the subject of this narrative, received the rudiments. of education at the school of Irvine; and about the age of fourteen, was sent to the university of Glasgow, where he studied with great approbation from his teachers, on account of his diligence and proficiency. The notes he then took from the Lectures on Logic and Moral Philosophy, before he was fixteen, still remain among his papers, and afford remarkable indications of the fame acuteness, and foundness of judgment, which afterwards characterized his Theological Writings.
Having completed the usual course of academical dis. cipline at Glasgow, Mr. MACKNIGHT went to Leyden, in order to prosecute the study of Theology, to which he had shewn an early attachment. While he staid in Holland, he had an opportunity of procuring many valuable books written by foreign Divines, which after. wards affifted his own labours in explaining Scripture. After his return to Scotland, having received from the Presbytery of Irvine a license to preach the gospel, he was chosen to officiate at the Gorbals, near Glasgow; a situation which at that time could be held by a Licenciate of the Church, before being ordained to the pastoral function. On this occasion, one of the candidates was Mr. Robert HENRY, afterwards the well known Historian of Great Britain. It is somewhat remarkable, that the fame Gentlemen who thus happened to be placed in competition with each other at the commencement of life, were at last, after an interval of many years, associated as colleagues in the Charge of the Old Parish Church of Edinburgh; a connection which subsisted till the death of Dr. Henry, in the most cordial habits of friendship and intimacy.
From the Gorbals, Mr. MACKNIGHT went to Kilwinning, in consequence of an invitation from Mr. FerGusson, then Minister of that place; and acted for some time as his Assistant in the Charge of the Parish. Here he conducted himself with such propriety, that his character began to be established ; and on the death of Mr. Fisher at Maybole, he obtained the vacant living there, with the concurring wish of the heritors and people. Of this Charge, accordingly, he was ordained as Minister, on the ioth of May 1753. At Maybole, Mr. MACKNIGHT continued sixteen years; and discharged the duties of the pastoral office with such assiduity and kindness, that when he left it, he carried with him the affections and regret of all his flock. It may be mentioned, as a pleasing evidence of attachment, that when he proposed accepting a Presentation to the living of Jedburgh, many respectable inhabitants of the parish of Maybole, joined together in earnestly soliciting him to remain as their Pastor ; and in order to obtain his compliance with this request, they offered not only to augment the value of his income, but to provide him an Assistant, should the state of his health render it neces
fary. - This generous proposal, however, he judged it proper, from prudential considerations, to decline.
It was at Maybole that, amidst his professional occupations in a populous Charge, Dr. MACKNIGHT composed the first and second of his Works. Of the former, indeed, or the Harmony of the Gospels, it appears from his papers, that the plan had been conceived by him so early as the third or fourth year of his attendance at the university ; and from that time he began to collect materials for the publication. The first edition of this book was published in 1756. Although the plan of it differed considerably from that of former Harmonies, in fupposing that the Evangelists have not neglected the order of time in the narration of events, the reception it met with from the most competent judges was so favourable, that the Author was encouraged to undertake a second edition, with considerable improvements and additions. This edition appeared in 1763. In the same year, was also published by Dr. MACKNIGHT, another Performance of great merit, entitled, The Truth of the Gospel Hiftory;
which had been the fruit of the Author's studies during the interval between the first and second editions of his Harmony. Its object is, to illustrate and confirm, both by argument and by appeal to the testimony of ancient authors, what are commonly arranged under the three great titles of the Internal, the Collateral, and the Direct Evidences of the Gospel History.
By these publications, Dr. MACKNIGHT foon obtained a high reputation for theological learning. The University of Edinburgh conferred on him (among the first who obtained that distinction in Scotland) the Degree of Doctor of Divinity; and he was chosen Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in