Thomas Gillespie (minister)

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Thomas Gillespie (1708 – 19 January 1774) was a Scottish church leader.


Gillespie was born at Clearburn, in the parish of Duddingston, Edinburgh (then part of Midlothian). He was educated at the University of Edinburgh, and studied divinity first at a small theological seminary at Perth, and afterwards for a brief period under Philip Doddridge at Northampton, where he was ordained in January 1741. In September of the same year he was admitted minister of the parish of Carnock, Fife, the presbytery of Dunfermline agreeing not only to sustain as valid the ordination he had received in England, but also to allow a qualification of his subscription to the churches doctrinal symbol, so far as it had reference to the sphere of the civil magistrate in matters of religion.

Having persistently absented himself from the meetings of presbytery held for the purpose of ordaining Andrew Richardson, an unacceptable presentee, as minister of Inverkeithing, he was, after a ministry of ten years, deposed by the Assembly of 1752 for maintaining that the refusal of the local presbytery to act in this case was justified. He continued to preach, first at Carnock, and afterwards in Dunfermline, where a large congregation gathered round him. His conduct under the sentence of deposition produced a reaction in his favor, and an effort was made to have him reinstated; this he declined unless the policy of the church were reversed. In 1761, in conjunction with Thomas Boston the younger of Jedburgh and Thomas Colier of Colinsburgh, he formed a distinct communion under the name of the "Presbytery of Relief"—relief, that is to say, from patronage and the church courts. The Relief Church eventually became one of the communions combining to form the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland.


Gillespie's only literary works were an Essay on the Continuation of Immediate Revelations in the Church, and a Practical Treatise on Temptation. Both works appeared posthumously (1774). In the former he argues that immediate revelations are no longer vouchsafed to the church, in the latter he traces temptation to the work of a personal devil.


  • Alexander William Lindsay, Life and Times of the Rev. Thomas Gillespie;
  • Smithers, History of the Relief Church.
  • Kenneth B. E. Roxburgh, Thomas Gillespie and the Origins of the Relief Church in 18th century Scotland, Peter Lang, 1999.

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.