David Ferguson (reformer)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
David Ferguson's grave, Dunfermline Abbey
The plaque on David Ferguson's grave, Dunfermline Abbey

David Fergusson or Ferguson (died 1598) was a Scottish reformer.


His date of birth is debated,[1] and he is reputed to have been a native of Dundee.[2] Robert Wodrow states that he was by trade a glover, but gave up business and went to school, in order to fit himself for the duties of a preacher or expounder among the reformers.[3] The Scottish doctor of the Sorbonne James Laing sneered at him as an ignorant cobbler (sutor) and glover.[4] He was well acquainted both with Latin and Greek, and was among the earliest of the preachers of the reformed doctrines.

When the first appointment was made of ministers or superintendents for places in Scotland, he was selected to go to Dunfermline; in 1567 Rosyth was placed under his care, but in 1574 it was excluded, while Cumnock and Beith were added. Ferguson was chosen moderator of the general assembly which met at Edinburgh on 6 March 1573, and also of that which met on 24 Oct. 1578. He usually had a place on important commissions, and for many years was chosen one of the assessors to the moderator to prepare matters for the assembly.

He was one of the ministers who waited on James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton before his execution, 2 June 1581. In 1582 he was appointed by the assembly a commissioner for the West of Fife, to superintend the establishment of kirks and placing of ministers. Ferguson formed one of a deputation to wait on James VI in 1583 to discharge the duty of admonishing him ‘to beware of innovations in court’, to check reports before credit was given to them, and remind him of the affair of the escaped Jesuit, William Holt. He jocularly told the king that Fergus was the first king of Scotland, and that he was Fergus-son; but recognising that King James had the possession and was an honest man he would give him his right. In the discussion warmth was displayed by some of the deputies, but Ferguson succeeded in giving a new turn to the topics at critical points, the result being that as they took their leave ‘the king laid his hands upon every one of them.’ In August of the same year Ferguson and six other ministers were cited by the king to attend a convention at St Andrews to answer for certain proceedings of the assembly.

On 12 May 1596, on the renewal of the covenant by the synod of Fife at Dunfermline, Ferguson gave an address, with reminiscences of his experiences of the early reform period. At a meeting of the synod of Fife, held at Cupar in February 1598, in regard to a proposal to give ministers a vote in parliament, Ferguson, the eldest minister at that time in Scotland, after relating pat difficulties of the church in contending against efforts to introduce episcopacy, opposed the proposal, which he compared to the ‘busking up of the brave horse’ for the overthrow of Troy. He died 13 August 1598. He is buried on the west side of the north entrance path to Dunfermline Abbey.


In 1563 Ferguson published a reply to René Benoît, confessor to Mary Queen of Scots.[5][6] It was printed in Tracts by David Ferguson, edited by David Laing for the Bannatyne Club in 1860. On 13 January 1572 he preached a sermon before the Regent Mar at the meeting of the assembly in Leith, when a modified episcopacy was established. It protested against the alienation of the spoils of the church to the private uses of the nobility or to purposes of government, instead of their being applied to the establishment of churches and schools, and to meet the necessities of the poor; and was in vernacular Scottish. At the assembly held at Perth in August 1572 it was submitted to the revision of five ministers, all of whom gave it their approbation, after which it was printed at St. Andrews by Robert Lekprevick, the dedication to the Regent Mar bearing the date of 20 August. John Knox gave it his recommendation: ‘John Knox with my dead hand but glad heart, praising God that of his mercy he leaves such light to his kirk in this desolation.’ It is in the volume edited by Laing.

The epithet ‘Tulchan’ applied to the bishops is usually ascribed to him. He was famed for his skill in the vernacular language, which is celebrated by John Davidson, then one of the regents at St. Andrews. He made a collection of Scottish proverbs, published in 1641 under the title, ‘Scottish Proverbs gathered together by David Fergusone, sometime minister at Dunfermline, and put ordine alphabetico when he departed this life anno 1598.’ Other editions appeared in 1659, 1675, 1699, and 1706, the latter bearing the title, ‘Nine Hundred and Forty Scottish Proverbs, the greater part of which were first gathered together by David Ferguson, the rest since added.’

He was also the author of ‘Epithalamium Mysticum Solomonis Regis, sive analysis critico-poetica Cantici Canticorum,’ Edinburgh, 1677. He left a diary containing a record of the principal ecclesiastical events of his time, which has been lost, but which probably his son-in-law, John Row (1568–1646), incorporated in his ‘History.’


By his wife, Isabel Durham, he had five sons and four daughters, one of whom, Grizzel, married Row.


  1. ^ Ferguson is stated by John Spottiswoode to have been born about 1533, but Robert Wodrow supposes the date to have been ten or twenty years earlier, and David Laing thinks it could not have been later than 1525.
  2. ^ The only evidence for this is an entry in the treasurer's accounts of Scotland 7 July 1558 of a summons to him and others within the borough of Dundee to appear before the justices at the Tolbooth on 28 July for disputing upon erroneous opinions and eating flesh during Lent.
  3. ^ Analecta, i. 120
  4. ^ De Vitâ Hæreticorum, p. 36
  5. ^ ‘An Answer to ane Epistle written by Renat Benedict, the French doctor, professor of God's word (as the translator of this epistle calleth him) to John Knox and the rest of his brethren, ministers of that word of God made by David Feargusone, minister of this same word at this present Dunfermline.’
  6. ^ http://words.fromoldbooks.org/Chalmers-Biography/b/benedict-rene.html