Rev Hugh Gaston
1748 - 1766
Fourth Minister of Ballywillan Presbyterian Church
Mr Gaston was the son of William Gaston of Ballymena, and he and his brother, Alexander, were educated at Glasgow . Mr Gaston was licensed by the Route Presbytery in 1745 and ordained at Ballywillan on 23rd February 1748.
Nothing is known of his ministry at Ballywillan, but he wrote a book which was greatly valued by the religious public and which was frequently reprinted. The book, published in 1763, contained 500 pages and was entitled ‘A Scripture Account of the Faith and Practice of Christians, consisting of large and numerous collections of pertinent texts of Scripture upon the sundry articles of Revealed Religion’. In this book Mr Gaston had, with systematic and painstaking labour, collected series of texts bearing upon the main points in the faith and practice of Christians. He explains the book’s purpose in the preface where he writes:
‘Everyone who is acquainted with the Sacred Scripture knows, that the complete account which they contain of any one article of religion is never to be met with altogether in one place, without other subjects intermixed with it, but is to be collected from many different places of the Bible, where the sacred writers have touched upon it’.
‘In every one of the many different places of the Bible where any one article of religion is touched upon, it is still placed in some useful light for instruction, so that none of these places are superfluous. All these places taken together do make up the complete Scripture account of the subject – they contain all the light, which the Spirit of Revelation hath afforded upon it in writing, as needful for instruction – whoever would view the Scripture truth, in all that light afforded, must search the Scriptures for the different places in which it is contained, or where the subject is mentioned. In these places it will be found sufficiently explained, enforced by all its proper motives, applied to all its proper uses, and set in every advantageous light needful for being rightly understood and properly applied, even after extraordinary inspiration hath ceased’.
Mr Gaston’s wife was Mary Thompson (daughter of the minister who preceded Mr Gaston at Ballywillan). They had a large family, including sons Hugh and James and daughters Mrs Nelson, Mrs Rogan, Mrs Rose and an unmarried daughter Mary.
When he entered on his ministry, spirituality was perhaps at its very lowest in the Synod of Ulster. The love of many to the truth had grown cold, and the orthodoxy of some was more than expected. Mr Gaston at least was sound in the faith. Cut off by his position from intellectual circles, and deprived of the advantages derived from the study of many books, he devoted his time to the study of the Holy Scriptures. With marvellous industry and labour selected a series of texts and arranged them into systematic form, with the view of illustrating the main points in the faith and practice of Christians. He accompanies the passages with no comment. He allows each series of proofs to speak for itself. When the reader has examined the various passages under each heading, he is allowed to draw his conclusion as to what the inspired writers intended to teach. The aurthor grasped firmly the grand principle that nothing is a part of Christianity except what is taught in the Bible, and his work is the result of his reception of that principle. The original edition appeared at Dublin in 1763, but the various editions which have since issued from the press prove that it has not ceased even yet to be useful. An edition of it was printed at London in 1813, in 1816 it was republished at Glasgow and Edinburgh, and another reprint, corrected, compared and revised, by Joseph Strut, appeared at London in 1824. The last edition I have seen is that of Aberdeen in 1847, and perhaps the career of usefulness of this unpretending work is not yet at an end.
Mr Gaston died on 15th October 1766, but there is some doubt as to where he was buried. According to the Fasti he is buried at Ballywillan, but his death is not recorded on the family tombstone, on which appear the names of his wife’s parents, his wife and two of his children. Professor Witherow mentions a tradition that Mr Gaston had to go to America owing to pecuniary embarrassment due partly to the poverty of the country and partly to the publication of his book. Mrs Mullin feels that this tradition may be based on reasonably firm grounds as Prof Witherow was a friend of Mr Woodburn, who was minister of Ballywillan a hundred years after Mr Gaston’s death.
Mr Gaston was present at General Synod meetings up to June 1765, so if he did go to America it must have been after that date, and he cannot have lived long afterwards. His wife Mary lived to the age of 96 and received a grant from the Widow’s Fund for no less than 57 years. She died on the 27th of February 1823. She lived with her unmarried daughter Mary at Magherabue near Dessertderran and was remembered by descendants as an old lady generally sitting at an ebony spinning wheel.