Enlightened Evangelicalism: The Life and Thought of John Erskine

Enlightened Evangelicalism: The Life and Thought of John Erskine

Enlightened Evangelicalism: The Life and Thought of John Erskine

Enlightened Evangelicalism: The Life and Thought of John Erskine


John Erskine was the leading evangelical in the Church of Scotland in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Educated at Edinburgh University, he learned to appreciate the epistemology of John Locke and other empiricists alongside key Scottish Enlightenment figures. As a clergyman, he integrated the style and moral teachings of the Moderate Enlightenment into his discourses and posited new theories on traditional views of Calvinism in his theological treatises. While widely recognized as an able preacher and theologian, Erskine's primary contribution to evangelicalism was as a disseminator. He sent countless religious and philosophical works to correspondents like Jonathan Edwards so that he and others could learn about current ideas, update their writings, and provide an apologetic against perceived heretical authors. Erskine also was crucial in the publishing of books and pamphlets by some of the best evangelical theologians in America and Britain. Within his lifetime, Erskine's main contribution was as a propagator of an enlightened form of evangelicalism. While there is a great deal of scholarship on Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley, Yeager argues that it is time to expand the scholarship of eighteenth-century evangelicalism by turning to one of their lesser-studied colleagues. In this new biography of Erskine, Jonathan Yeager lays out the life and thought of a hitherto under-researched - yet, in his day, widely respected - preacher and gives Erskinethe scholarly treatment that he so richly deserves.


The colleague of Dr. Robertson ascended the pulpit. His external appearance was not prepossessing. a remarkably fair complexion, strangely contrasted with a black wig without a grain of powder; a narrow chest and a stooping posture; hands which, placed like props on either side of the pulpit, seemed necessary rather to support the person than to assist the gesticulation of the preacher,—no gown, not even that of Geneva, a tumbled band, and a gesture which seemed scarce voluntary, were the first circumstances which struck a stranger. “The preacher seems a very ungainly person,” whispered Mannering to his new friend.

“Never fear; he’s the son of an excellent Scottish lawyer—he’ll show blood, I’ll warrant him.”

The learned counsellor predicted truly. a lecture was delivered, fraught with new, striking, and entertaining views of Scripture history—a sermon, in which the Calvinism of the Kirk of Scotland was ably supported, yet made the basis of a sound system of practical morals, which should neither shelter the sinner under the cloak of speculative faith or of peculiarity of opinion, nor leave him loose to the waves of unbelief and schism. Something there was of an antiquated turn of argument and metaphor, but it only served to give zest and peculiarity to the style of elocution.

Such was the description that Sir Walter Scott gave of his childhood pastor in the novel Guy Mannering (1815) [see figure 1.1]. But what do . . .

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