Rev John Abernethy

1769 - 1774

Fifth Minister of Ballywillan Presbyterian Church

The congregation was without a minister until 15th August 1769, when Mr John Abernethy was ordained there.  Mr Abernethy was born near Templepatrick in 1736, educated in Scotland , and licensed by Templepatrick Presbytery in 1762.  He only stayed at Ballywillan for five years, as he was installed at Templepatrick on 12th August 1774.

In 1795 he published a pamphlet entitled ‘Philalethes or Revelation consistent with Reason – an attempt to answer the objections and arguments against it in Mr Paine’s work entitled The Age of Reason’.  Professor Witherow observes that Mr Abernethy shows in this work that nothing said by Paine impairs the arguments for Devine revelation founded on miracles and prophecy.  Prof Witherow also comments that Mr Abernethy was so economical in his habits, that he wrote the whole pamphlet on the backs of  letters, to avoid the expense of buying paper.

Mr Abernethy resigned from Templepatrick on 2nd January 1796, and in 1802 he was deposed ‘ from every part of the ministerial office’ becaused he continued, in spite of remonstrance, to celebrate marriages contrary to the rules of the Synod.  He acquired a considerable landed estate and married Miss Thompson of Antrim.  He died at Antrim on 8th April 1818, and was buried at Templepatrick.

Prof Witherow quotes from a poem, written by one Moat of Ballyclare and published in 1820, in which the faults and accentricities of Mr Abernethy are not spared – he is described as fond of money, addicted to manual labour, able in argument, and acquainted with various branches of science.  The poem ends thus –

‘He was a bright and luminous preacher,
A sound and honest moral teacher,
A subtle abstract metaphysician,
A shrewd and able politician,
In controversy few came near him,
It was delightful for to hear him,
His logic made the clubs to fear him,
He new the system of creation,
For few were found so very pithy
As was old learned Abernethy.’

After Mr Abernethy resigned from Ballywillan, the congregation was once again vacant for several years, as it was not until 23rd April 1779 that Mr Robert Thompson was ordained.

Historical & Literacy Memorials of Presbyterianism in Ireland . 1730-1800 Vol 2 T. Witherow