MILLAR, ROBERT (1672-1752)

Minister at Paisley Abbey, Scotland, from 1709.

His writing contributed to missionary interest in Paisley that came to life again with the formation of the London Missionary Society in 1795 and the almost immediate formation of the Paisley London Missionary Society.

While others were involved in the political task of re-establishing Presbyterianism in Scotland after the turmoil of the previous century, or in occasioning or defending heresy trials, Robert Millar rose above the troubles of his national church to systematically document the mission of Christianity on a global scale.

If in the process he provided an Apologetic for the faith and an implicit attack on Deism, and was not immune from traces of national pride in his belief in the competence of Scots to achieve what few others had attempted, at the same time he showed himself to be above party and faction in seeing and commending the larger historical and theological framework within which Christians and churches could see their place in the purposes of God. He had a gracious and matter of fact style, free of rancour yet insightful about things that matter. He was not alone in his generation in taking steps towards the world mission that was not to become a movement until the following century. He deserves to be evaluated in his own terms, as does his age, and not be seen simply as a precursor of Carey and others to come.

The fruit of his publications is difficult to gauge, but they originally had some 500 subscribers and ran to two further editions. His calls to prayer were consistent with those in the Cambuslang Revival of 1742 whose influence can be traced to Andrew Fuller and William Carey. If some have been too anxious to establish these links, another which should be considered is the alacrity and generosity with which the people of his old parish supported the London Missionary Society in 1795.

In Paisley, as in more of Scotland than is appreciated, the barriers to mission were opportunity and lethargy, not theology. For that some credit should probably go to Millar. In Millar’s lifetime it became possible to think of mission overseas in terms of John Eliot among the Indians of New England and of the Danish Halle Mission in Tranquebar.

Millar worked from a comprehensive historical survey to deal with Deists at home and to develop a fresh sense of the global march and progress of Christianity. If Australia was not yet discovered and Cook’s journals not available to inspire, there was still Robinson Crusoe, the fiasco of Darien, the hopes of a New World, the examples of Catholics in India and China and the questions of a meticulous and enquiring mind as to what this might mean in the providence of God. His is the theological parallel to the impulse which led Dr Daniel Williams, a Presbyterian minister in London, who died in 1717 to leave an estate tied to the SSPCK sending “three qualified ministers to infidel and foreign countries.”

John Roxborogh

Bibliography

Ronald E Davies, “Robert Millar - an Eighteenth Century Scottish Latourette,” Evangelical Quarterly 62(2), 1990, 143-156.

John Foster, "A Scottish contributor to the missionary awakening: Robert Millar of Paisley," International Review of Mission, 37, 1948, 138-145.

Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, 3, p.166.

Robert Millar, The History of the Propagation of Christianity and Overthrow of Paganism wherein the Christian religion is confirmed, the rise and progress of heathenish idolatry is considered, the overthrow of paganism and the spreading of Christianity in the several ages of the New Testament Church are explained, the present state of heathens is enquired into and methods for their conversion offered. 2 vols, Edinburgh, 1723.

Robert Millar, History of the Church under the Old Testament from the Creation of the World, Edinburgh, 1730.