b. 15 February, 1662 Moniaive, Nithsdale, Scotland
d. 17 February 1688 Grassmarket Square, Edinburgh, Scotland
Reverend James Renwick was apparently born of a family of modest income weavers of the clachan of Moniaive in the hills of Glencairn. His parents had given birth to other children but all had died except for him. From infancy his parents had dedicated their son to the ministry. One of his biographers, Alexander Shields, wrote, "by the age of Two years of Age, he was discerned to be aiming at Prayer, even in the Cradle and about it." [Smellie] Brian Orr writes that, "He was a child of tender conscience, and endowed with natural gifts, he grew in favour with folds around so that, after his time at the Parish School, friends got him to Edinburgh to prepare him for the University.
John Howie wrote in his "Biographia Scoticana" in 1775 that,
"MR. JAMES RENWICK was born in the parish of Glencairn in Nithsdale, Feb. 15, 1662. His parents though not rich, yet were exemplary for piety. His father Andrew Renwick (a weaver to trade) and his mother Elizabeth Corsan, had several children before Mr. James, who died young; for which when his mother was pouring forth her motherly grief, her husband used to comfort her with declaring, that he was well satisfied to have children, whether they lived or died, young or old, providing they might be heirs of glory. But with this she could not attain to be satisfied, but had it for her exercise to seek a child from the Lord, that might not only be an heir of glory, but might live to serve him in his generation: whereupon when Mr. James was born, she took it as an answer of prayer, and reputed herself under manifold engagements to dedicate him to the Lord, who satisfied her with very early evidences of his accepting that return of his own gift, and confirmed the same with very remarkable appearances of his gracious dealings with the child. For, by the time he was two years of age, he was observed to be aiming at prayer even in the cradle and about it, wherewith his mother conceived such expectations and hopes, that the Lord would be with him, and do good by him, ... so that all the reproaches he sustained, difficulties and dangers that afterwards he underwent, to his dying day, never moved her in the least, from the confidence that the Lord would carry him through, and off the stage in some honourable way for his own glory. His father also, before his death, (which was Feb. 1, 1679.) obtained the same persuasion, that his time in the world would be but short, but that the Lord would make some eminent use of him.Although the above record states that Elizabeth Corsan Renwick had several children, Robert Simpson stated that the children all had died young. "As this good woman had hitherto been deprived of her children in the early morning of their existence, she besought of the Lord a child who might not only be an heir of glory, but who might also live to serve him in his generation. This request, like the priyer of Hannah, was granted, and James Renwick was born on the 15th February 1662, a little after teh commencement of that long and grievous persecutio for righteousness' sake, in which he was destined to be so conspicuous a sufferer." [Simpson p.
[Howie, James. Biographia Scoticana: or, a Brief Historical Account of the Lives, Characters, and Memorable Transactions of the most eminent Scots Worthies 1775]
1675 - His father dies when he was thirteen.
James Renwick attended and graduated from University of Edinburgh. He must have recieved some kind of financial support through a scholarship or individuals to attend since his father was dead by this time. Here he seemed to pass the test of his faith through the intellectual training. Once, "being in the Fields and looking to the mountains, he was so strongly assaulted with Temptations of Atheism that he said, 'If these were all devouring Furnaces of burning Brimstone, I should be content to go through them, if so be that thereby I could be assured that there is a God.'" [Smellie]
1681 - He saw a number
of dedicated Covenanter martyred in Edinburgh and helped to bury a few
of them. He saw Donald Cargill executed at Mercat Cross with four
others. Here he met the Mountain Men of the United Societies. The
United Society was a group of zealous defenders of the faith against
tyranny. It was this group that sent James along with four other young
men to Holland, Rotterdam, Groningen and Leeuwarden to complete his
studies. When he returns to Scotland his is but twenty-one years of age.
When he returned to
Scotland he was confronted by the events that befell the country.
As described by Robert Simpson in 1863,
1683- James Renwick preaches his first sermon at Darmead in the parish of Cambusnethan under the open sky. He picked a passage from Isaiah 40 I-8 and from Isaiah 26.20. After this he became to many the only true minister of the United Societies. [Orr]
1683-1687 James spent the next four years organizing, preaching, teaching, counseling and formulating declarations.
Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: Hide thyself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation be over-past.
It was the 17th of February 1688 when James Renwick was martyred. Before the year was out, the Stuarts were in exile, and persecutions was closed. he died as the herald of a more gracious day. 'He was of old Knox's principles,' his adversaries said, when they noted his unassailable steadfastness. But we may take our farewell of him in words which were written by one who loved him dearly: 'When I speak of him as a man, none more comely in features, none more prudent, none more heroic in spirit, yet none more meek, more humaned and condescending.. He learned the truth and ocunted the cost, and so sealed it with his blood.'" [Smellie]
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