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Monday January 1, 0001

Notes Towards a Biographical Sketch on William Reid by Edwin Cross


Towards a Biographical Sketch on the Rev. William Reid, M.A.
(author of The Blood of Jesus)
1822 to 1881

‘in labours more abundant’ (2 Cor. 11:23)

by Edwin Cross


© 2004
limited use of this material is permitted provided written permission is sought and copy of use supplied to author

The Rev. William Reid M.A. 1822 to 1881
a Biographical Sketch

WILLIAM REID was a capable and active servant of Christ, whose achievements have hitherto missed the biographer’s pen. Born in 1822 in Rescobie, Forfar, educated at the Parish school and for some time served as a monitor (i.e. a pupil teacher). In 1839 he went to King’s College, Aberdeen, graduating with an honours degree. His first post was assistant at Blairgowrie Free Church. For nine years he was editor of the Drummond’s Stirling Tract Depôt. In about 1857-8 Reid edited the British Messenger, Turpin records in The Spiritual Watchman that Reid’s reports, in the British Messenger, of the Lord’s work in Scotland at that time were one cause of its rapid expansion. It informed godly pastors who had been preparing believers to expect blessing, but who were doubtful of the work. It was a time when churches were so crowded that the preachers could not enter the street in which they stood, let alone get to the door of the churches.

His best known book was written at this time: The Blood of Jesus. James Nisbet of London published it in 1865. The preface shows Reid as living in 23 George Street, Edinburgh in 1863. He states that he had ‘been religiously inclined from my earliest years. When quite little I was wont to say my prayers many times over.’ His lecture The Feasts of the Lord’ was delivered on Monday evening 7 August 1865, at the Bible Meeting held in the Hall of the National Bible Society, 5 St Andrew’s Square, Edinburgh. It was subsequently published by James Taylor of Edinburgh. The Spiritual Watchman (ed. Rev. W. T. Turpin, M.A.) September 1, 1865 p.63, carried an advert for it.

At about this time (1860s) he married Mary Laird also born in Forfar, Forfarshire. She was one year his senior. She was to survive him by over a quarter century and died 11th February 1900 aged 78 years. They had two daughters; Margaret and Mary born 1857 and 1858. Margaret later married Rev William Gibson (1828-1899) who was minister of the Free Church of Scotland in Craigeric, Juniper Green.

In 1867 Reid became the minister of the Warwick Road Presbyterian Church, Carlisle, which at that time was in a struggling condition. He was then an able exponent of the Word of God and his fidelity and ability soon drew numerous from various denominations, many also being remarkably converted. A clearly defined line of apostolic teaching marked his ministry. His correspondence with Dr Tonna, editor of The Christian Annotator magazine, in 1856 led to three contributions being published in volume 3.

He also preached in a Wesleyan chapel, where, a century before, John Wesley had himself preached. But he eventually found that his ecclesiastical position was inconsistent with what he believed and taught. And after further help from correspondence with William Kelly (1821-1906) determined to go outside the camp and gather among the brethren. A letter by W. Kelly to the editor of The British Herald entitled Presbyterianism Tested by the Word of God was a brief but sufficient answer to three articles entitled ‘Rule in the Church, Local Charges and Power the Ground of Office, in the April 1870 edition of the British Herald. So after eight years in Carlisle he severed his connections with the Presbyterian church and went to the Hebron Hall meeting of brethren in Bank Street, Carlisle.

During all this time he had been a busy publisher of magazines. Among those he edited were the following: the British Messenger a religious newspaper c.1857, with a tremendous circulation of 120,000 in print. This periodical continued long after his death, until at least 1948! The British Herald was issued between 1864 and 1875? William Reid also edited the British Evangelist from 1869 onwards with W. P. Mackay (the author of Grace and Truth). He also wrote several books. One of his publishers was R. M. Cameron who was well known as a school textbook publisher at the turn of the 19th century in Scotland.

Reid’s magazines show he had an appreciation of the ministry of the so-called Plymouth Brethren, in particular an interest in the work the Thirwhit Scholar, who was able classicist and expositor, Clarence Esme Stuart (1823-1903).

Besides a very extensive literary work he also made a notable contribution to the collection of songs and hymns for use by the church of God. His The Praise Book is a comprehensive collection of over a thousand hymns. The compilation of which took him ten years. It was first published in 1872. C. H. Spurgeon reviewed it in a subsequent issue of his magazine Sword and Trowel. Praising its extensive range and the many choice hymns in it, but commenting on the peculiar metres of several that ought never to be sung!

Shortly after moving to the brethren in Carlisle, which I judge to be about 1875, he went to live in Edinburgh, his home address in March 1876 in that city was No. 1 Cambridge Street. It was then that he felt free to show his colours in The Literature and Mission of the so-called Plymouth Brethren. Here he gives an attempt a just estimate of their testimony to the revealed truth of God. It had been written in 1873 but it was not published until 1876. It demonstrates his deep acquaintance with the literature of the brethren and it is clear that these books had a thorough going effect on his course.

Here he continued his work for the Lord. More booklets and magazines were published, a full list is given below. The magazines being of especial worth and interest. The Bible Herald was a monthly magazine published by W. B. Horner of London from 1876 until 1881. The Bible Witness and Review for the Presentation and Defence of Revealed Truth were published occasionally during this time from 1877-81 in 3 vols.

In the Brethren’s meeting at Edinburgh he met a Swedish girl, who aroused his interest to visit Sweden and look for Christians there who might be won for the truth of the Assembly. He went to Sweden with his wife in about 1876. His literary and pastoral labours among the Swedish Christians resulted in the establishment of two dozen assemblies in that country.

He was competent in some modern languages as well as Greek and Latin. Although unable to correspond in Swedish he could read it. In a letter to the renowned Swedish evangelist, Dr. Paul Peter Waldenström, he offered to correspond in Latin. Originals of these Latin letters still exist and show his endeavour to win PPW for the brethren’s way of gathering. He also entered upon correspondence with Waldenström on the subject of the Atonement. These were subsequently published in the Bible Witness and Review. The second Volume (1878) has The Atonement, with a review of Dr. P. P. Waldenström’s Om Försoningens Betydelse (trans. = On the Significance of Atonement.). The third volume of 1881 has the letter by W. R. on The Multiformity of Sectarianism and the Unity of the Spirit, written to a Swede in the Lutheran Christian Mission (Swedish title: Andens Ennhet). Reid laboured until his death to get Waldenström to get adjusted as to the truth on atonement and to come amongst brethren. The following year Edward Dennett (1831-1914) went out to Sweden to visit the assemblies and minister among them. His work consolidated the links.

J. N. Darby, whose high regard for Reid is shown in the Letters of JND, continued this correspondence in print. The Swedish work continued after his death in the hands of others, particularly the Hedman couple. In the last will and testament of Lord Adelbert P. Cecil (aged 48, drowned 1883) he left funds for poor Christians in various countries including those then in Sweden.

William Reid’s household in 1881 comprised Mary his wife and two daughters; Margaret and Mary aged 24 and 23 respectively. There were also two young borders from Ceylon, Mary and Annie Porter aged 10 and 9, who were doing their schooling in Scotland and a domestic servant from Harris aged 18 years old called Johanna Macauley. Tragedy struck the home suddenly and William died on 8th August 1881, we might conclude he as prematurely worn out buy his travels and labours. He was buried on the afternoon of 11th at Grange Cemetery, (plot No. 823), Edinburgh. Chalmers, Scroggie and other notable churchmen of the time are also buried there.

Mr Walter Scott said that ‘Reid never excelled as a preacher, nor was he specially fitted to address large congregations, but of his godliness in private life, his self denying labours of love, and devoted service to his Master, we might speak, and that too in terms of highest praise.’ (from the obituary by W. Scott in the Bible Herald 1881). The text on his gravestone from Titus 2:18 reads: ‘Looking for that blessed hope.’

In later years David Beattie in his Stories and Sketches of our Hymns and their Writers writes W.R. was ‘a humble man’ with ‘a gracious disposition’ who ‘ever sought to honour God by his implicit faith.’ C. H. Spurgeon in his Sword and Trowel magazine reviewed Reid’s hymnbook rather roughly, regarding some hymns and tunes unsingable and not deserving the light of day.

It is clear that more research into Reid’s life needs to be done. His labours, correspondence and literature work in both English and Swedish (with some Norwegian) and the influence he had both before the time he was with so-called ‘exclusive brethren’ and for the very brief time among them are largely unexplored history.




1) Magazines edited by William Reid

British Messenger a religious newspaper c.1857-8, 120,000 in print. Stirling Tract Enterprise. (This periodical continued until at least 1948!)

British Herald 1864-187? presumably 1875? publisher unknown (in 1865 two successive volumes were advertised in The Blood of Jesus. Price 1 shilling each.

(A letter to the editor of The British Herald:- Presbyterianism Tested by the Word of God, a brief but perhaps sufficient answer to three articles (entitled Rule in the Church, Local Charges and Power the Ground of Office,) in the British Herald for 1st April 1870 by W. Kelly. Published separately.)

British Evangelist 1869 onwards 3½ volumes edited by W. Reid and W. P. Mackay (author of Grace and Truth), Published Edinburgh. Copies in British Library.

Bible Herald a monthly magazine published 1876 until 1881 (5 vols.) + 2 posthumous vols. 1882 & 1883. W. B. Horner, London

Bible Witness and Review for the Presentation and Defence of Revealed truth 1877-81 (3 Vols.) Office of Publication, London

Volume 2 (1878) has The Atonement, with a review of Dr. P. Waldenström’s Om Försoningens Betydelse. (~ trans. ~ On the Significance of Atonement/Propitiation.)

Volume 3 (1881) has a letter by W.R. entitled The Multiformity of Sectarianism and the Unity of the Spirit, written to a Swede in the Lutheran Christian Mission.

Three contributions in volume 3 (1856) The Christian Annotator magazine, Nisbet and Co. London by William Reid.


2) Hymn Books edited by William Reid

The Praise of Jesus, a collection of hymns, 168 pages, London, 1863, at least three impressions that year 19,000 in print!

The Praise Book, 200 Hymns, James Nisbet. London, 1872

The Praise Book, 1017 Hymns, James Nisbet; 22nd June 1872

Songs of the Inner Life, being translations of German Hymns with their own tunes publisher unknown n.d. but possibly c.1876

Musical Leaflets selection of sixty Hymns on sheets; publisher unknown; n.d. but c. 1876

William Reid also wrote a number of hymns, which found their way into various collections. I have not researched these, though I have observed some of them in Open Brethren hymnbooks.

3) Letters of William Reid

Letter in Bode des Heils (Dutch Brethren periodical), Spring 1876 re Sweden & Norway. (English original not accessible at present.). This letter indicates the range of contacts that he and his wife, who accompanied him on his journey to Sweden, made.

Various letters in The National Archives in Stockholm, Sweden, being correspondence with Dr. Paul Peter Waldenström.

Items held in Bernt Lindberg (Storvreta) collection.

4) Books and tracts by William Reid

Streams from Lebanon James Nisbet, London, 1857, 4,000 copies by 1860; 6,000 in print preface written 24th February 1857 in Stirling, Scotland.

Will ye weary my God also? a lecture in Glasgow 1858, publisher unknown; in Rylands library, Manchester University CBA

Why will ye die? (a sermon on Ezekiel xxxiii. 11) London, 1859

Revival Truth, being sermons hitherto unpublished by the late R. M. M’Cheyne, edited by W. Reid, published London, 1860

The Friends of Jesus directed and encouraged, published London, 1860

The Spirit of Jesus, (on the work of the Holy Spirit in Conversion) published London, n.d. 3,000 in print by 1860

Letters about Jesus, addressed to enquirers London, publisher unknown; n.d. 2,000 in print by 1860

Earth’s expedients and Heaven’s Gospel, Dedicated to young Men, London publisher unknown; n.d. in print by 1860

The Glory Dwelling in our land, publisher unknown; n.d. 2,000 in print by 1860

The Great Change G. Morrish, London, 32 pages n.d. (in print by 1860)

Sundry Tracts Edinburgh Tracts, Gracious Words series in print 1860 James Nisbet, London (none yet identified in my collection)

Authentic Records of Revival, now in progress in the United Kingdom compilation by W. Reid and introduction by H. Bonar, James Nisbet, London 1860

The Blood of Jesus by The Rev. Wm. Reid M.A. James Nisbet, London 1865.

The Literature and Mission of the so-called Plymouth Brethren written in Edinburgh in 1873, published in 1876 James Nisbet, London in response to the adversarial action of Churchmen.

Accusers of the Brethren publisher unknown; n.d. probably between 1876-79, 32 pages

Looking unto Jesus (a book on Worship) publisher unknown; n.d. c. pre 1876

The Church of God, a lecture on Acts 2:41,42 R. M. Cameron, Edinburgh, n.d., 29 pages

The Great Open Meeting of Christianity R. M. Cameron, Edinburgh, 1898, 16 pages

The Great Open Meeting of Christianity Gospel Tract Depôt, London, 32 pages

Jesus the Only Source of Joy in Grace and Glory R. M. Cameron, Edinburgh, n.d., 32 pages

The Stone of Salvation, R. M. Cameron, Edinburgh, n.d., 32 pages

Christ once suffered for Sins, the Just for the Unjust, address delivered in the Freemason’s Hall, Edinburgh, Sunday evening, August 29th 1875. R. M. Cameron, Edinburgh, 32 pages

Pentecostal Times being a course of expository lectures on the Acts of the Apostles, W. B. Horner, London, March 1876, 286 + JND’s Exposition on the Acts translated from Italian (total 335 pages)

Song of Songs, W. B. Horner, London, 1st April 1876, 247 pages

The Feasts of the Lord, James Taylor, Edinburgh, August 1865. and R. M. Cameron, Edinburgh, n.d., 32 pages? in Rylands library, Manchester University CBA

The Holy Spirit as a Seal and an Ernest. An address by the Rev. William Reid, M.A. S. W. Partridge, London, n.d., 32 Pages, 5,000 printed

The Holy Spirit as the Seal of Sonship and the Ernest of Glory. R. M. Cameron, Edinburgh, n.d., 48 pages

A Break-down in Religion, a Want of the Times. S. W. Partridge, London, n.d. (c.1870), 32 Pages

A Break-down in Religion the want of the times by the late William Reid M.A. (A minister of the Gospel) Alfred Holness, London, 1890, 36 pages

Some Gospel tracts by ‘R’ believed to be W. Reid:-

The Dying Appeal, G. Morrish, London, n.d. 31 pages

Prime Me Up to Die, R. M. Cameron, Edinburgh, 1878, 20 pages

Waiting for Glory, R. M. Cameron, Edinburgh, n.d. 30 pages

• None of W. R.’s numerous Swedish or Norwegian tracts are listed here. See list from Bernt Lindberg, Storvreta, Sweden.
• Titles in Bold are in my collection, copies of some are available, dependent upon condition of original binding, etc.
• The British Library has some of his pre-Brethren publications.

Other reference material

Lindberg, Bernt De SK Plymouthbröderna, The History of the Swedish Plymouth Brethren, Part 1-3 CD Jabes Förlag, Storvreta, Sweden 2000

In This Section

Timothy Stunt said ...
For the record, there is a slightly expanded version of this very useful piece of research which was published in the Brethren Archivists and Historians Network Review (BAHNR) ii No 2 (Autumn 2003) pp. 126-131. Timothy Stunt
Thursday, Jul 12, 2018 : 01:49
Leen van Valen said ...
Good morning!
I thank you for this obituary of William Reid. Are you still researching his life for a biography. The commen of Stunt refered to another record. Do you have this. I translated Revival Truth into Dutch en like to prepare a new edition of The Blood of Jesus. There is an old version of the last one in old Dutch, so we need a new translation.
Do you have old photographs of Reid?
Thank you for your help!
Kind regards, Leen J. van Valen, Dordrecht, Netherlands
Monday, Feb 11, 2019 : 15:49
Tom said ...

Hi Leen,

I only have the one photograph on here;

I don't have the BAHN article, and can't see it is available online - maybe someone else reading this has it?

Monday, Feb 11, 2019 : 17:40

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