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Kay's Originals Vol. 1


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 171 No. LXXIII. THE REV. DR. JOHN ERSKINE, LATE OF THE OLD GREYFRLARS’ CHURCH, EDINBURGH. THISis a very faithful representation of the above worthy man and no less excellent divine. The attitude in which he is delineated is that which he invariably assumed on entering upon his discourse, and is remarkably in unison with the description of the “ colleague of Dr. Robertson,” furnished by the graphic pen of Sir Walter Scott, in the novel of Guy 8fannering.l DK ERSKINEb,o rn on the 2d of June 1721, was the eldest son of John Erskine, Esq. of Carnock, Professor of Scots Law in the University of Edinburgh, and well known as the author of the Institutes of the Law of Scotland. The early education of young Erskine was conducted with a view to the legal profession, of which his father was so much’an ornament; and although he had almost from infancy discovered a more than common seriousness of temper, and, as he advanced in years, manifested a strong predilection in fayour of the pulpit, he repressed his aspirations so far as to submit to the usual course of , discipline formerly prescribed in Scotland for those who intended to become advocates. He entered the University of Edinburgh towards the end of the year 1734, where he acquired a thorough classical knowledge, and became acquainted with the principles of philosophy and law. Among other youths of great promise at that time at the college, was the late Principal Robertson, with whom young Erskine formed an intimate friendship, which, notwithstanding the shades of opinion in matters of church polity, and even in some doctrinal points mutually entertained by them in after life, continued to be cherished, amid their public contests, with unabated sincerity. While in the ardent pursuit of his classical acquirements, however, Dr. Erskine by no means neglected the study of theology ; on t’he contrary, his predilections in favour of the pulpit had increased, and so strong was his conviction of the duty of devoting his talents to the service of religion, that he resolved to acquaint his parents with his determination, and to endure their utmost opposition. The comparativelypow Presbyterian Church of Scotland had never been an object of aristocratical ambition ; besides this pecuniary objection, the friends of young Erskine conceived that the profession of the law, while it presented awider field, was more adapted for the display of A remarkably fair complexion, strangely contrasted with a black wig, without a grain of powder ; a narrow cheat and a stooping posture ; hands which, placed like props on either side of the pulpit, seemed neceasary rather to support the person than to assist the gesticulation of the preacher ; a gown (not even that of Geneva), a tumbled band, and a gesture, which seemed scarcely voluntary, were the fist circumstances which strnck a stranger.” 1 “ His external appearance was not prepossessing.
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172 BIOGRAPHICAL SRETC HES. his talents, and were therefore entirely hostile to his views. Their opposition, however, could not shake his resolution-he persevered in his theological studies, and was, in 1742, licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Dunblane. The future progress of the young divine, till his settlement in the metropolis, is easily told :-“ In May 1744 he was ordained minister of Kirkintilloch, in the Presbytery of Glasgow, where he remained till 1754, when he was presented to the parish of Culross, in the Presbytery of Dunfermline. In June 1758 he was translated to the New Greyfriars, one of the churches of Edinburgh, In November 1766, the University of Glasgow conferred on him the honorary degree of doctor of divinity; and, in July 1767, he was promoted to the collegiate charge of the Old Greyfriars, where he had for his colleague his early friend Dr. Robertson.” In these various movements towards that field of honour and usefulness in which his talents ultimately placed him, Dr. Erskine carried along with him the universal respect of his parishioners. They had been delighted and improved by his public instructions-and were proud of having had a clergyman amongst.them, at once combining the rare qualifications of rank, piety, and learning. He was most exemplary in his official character ; ever ready to assist and counsel his parishioners, he “grudged no time, and declined no labour, spent in their service.“ Dr. Erskine was not only zealous for the interests of religion at home, but equally so for its diffusion abroad ; and in order to obtain the earliest and most authentic intelligence of the state of the Gospel in the colonies of North America, where a remarkable concern for religion had manifested itself about the time he obtained his license, he commenced a correspondence with those chiefly interested in bringing about that interesting event. He also, some time after, opened a communication with many distinguished divines on the Continent of Europe -a correspondence which he unweariedly cultivated during the remainder of his life. This practice added much to his labour, not only by an increased and voluminous epistolary intercourse, but in “ being called upon by the friends of deceased divines to correct and superintend the publication of posthumous wor ks.”l In his Continental correspondence, the Doctor had seriously felt the want of a knowledge of the Dutch and German languages ; and, at an adv‘mced period of life, actually set about overcoming this difficulty, which he successfully accomplished in a remarkably short space of time. A rich field, in the literature of Germany, being thus thrown open to him, the result of his industry was soon manifested by the publication of “Sketches and Hints of Church History and Theological Controversy, chiefly translated and abridged from modern foreign writers,’’ the first volume of which appeared in 1790, and the second .in 1798.’ t1 The greater part of the works of President Edwards, of Dickenson, of Stoddart, and Fraaer of 9 On the appearance of this volume, Dr. Erskine waa violently assailed by an anonymous writer Allness, were brought out in this way.
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