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Kay's Originals Vol. 1


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 173 As might have been expected from the Doctor’s enthusiastic character, he took an active interest in the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. So long as his strength continued, he was one of its most zealous members; and when the infirmities of age would no longer permit him to attend personally at their meetings, he was frequently consulted on matters of importance to the Society at his own house. Dr. Erskine had never been in possession of much corporeal strength; and his weakly constitution began the sooner to feel the effects of approaching old age. Indeed, it is much to be wondered that his slender frame so long endured such an excess of mental and even bodily labour as distinguished his whole life. For several winters previous to his death he had not been able to preach regularly; and, for the last thirteen months, was compelled to leave it off altogether, his voice having become so weak as to be incapable of making himself heard. His mind, however, survived unimpaired amid the gradual decay of his bodily powers. His judgment was as clear, and his memory as good as in his younger years ; and almost to the last minute of existence he maintained the pursuit of those labours which had combined the business and the pleasure of his existence. On the 19th of January, the day previous to his demise, he was occupied in his study till a late hour. About four o’clock on the morning of the 20th (1803) he was suddenly taken ill; and although the alarm was immediately given, he expired, seemingly without a struggle, before his family could be collected around him. The funeral was attended by a vast train of mourners, and an immense concourse of spectators assembled to witness the last obsequies to the remains of their venerable and much respected pastor. At the request of his widow, the Reverend Dr. Davidson, who was an esteemed friend of the deceased, preached a funeral sermon in the Old Greyfriars’ Church, on the following Sunday, to a numerous and affected audience. Dr. Erskine was married to the Honourable Miss M‘Kay, daughter of Lord Reay, by whom he had a family of fourteen children, but only four survived- David Erskine, Esq. of Carnock, and three daughters, one of whom was the mother of James Stewart, Esq. of Dunearn. Of Dr. Erskine’s voluminous writings we cannot here even attempt a bare enumeration. They are, however, extensively known throughout the country. His first work, “ On the Necessity of Revelation,” ’written in his twenty-first year, and in which he had occasion to advocate some of the opinions maintained in Dr. Warburton’s “ Di+ine Legation of Moses,” procured him the approbation nnder the signature of “ A. C.,” by whom he was accused of favouring the views of the “ Illuminati ” -a German sect, at the head of whom was Nicholai, a celebrated bookseller and publisher-either through ignorance of the characters of those men whose writings he had patronised and introduced to the notice of the British public, or “ with the view to revive the old exploded hue-and-cry against Popery.” To the accusations thus put forward, Dr. Erskine, then in his seventy-eighth year, auccwsfully replied in a pamphlet entitled “Dr. Erskine’a Reply to a Printed Letter directed to him by ‘ A. C.,’ in which the gross misrepresentations in said letter are considered.” His body was interred in the Greyfriars’ churchyard.
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174 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. and friendship of that distinguished prelate. His detached sermons, published while a country clergyman, were remarkable for a propriety and correctness of taste ; while his Theological Dissertations, which appeared so early as 1765,’ were full of masterly disquisition on some of the most interesting points of divinity; and, in short, his whole works are distinguished for “precision of thought and originality of sentiment.” Dr. Erskine’s opinions in matters of Church polity are at once known from the prominent position which he maintained for many years as leader of the popular party in the General Assembly, in opposition to his old schoolfellow, Dr. Robertson. In state politics he was equally bold and independent in his views. In 1769,‘ on the breach with America, he published a discourse entitled ‘‘ Shall I go to war with my American brethren ?” which is said to have given great offence to some of those in high quarters at the time, and was considered as treasonable by many. It is even said the Doctor could get no bookseller to run the risk of publication, which seems to be corroborated by the fact that the sermon was actually published in London without any publisher’s imprint being attached to it. The discourse, however, was reprinted at Edinburgh in 1776, with the author’s name, and the addition of a preface and appendix, even more in opposition to the views of government than the discourse itself. On the subject of the American war he was strongly opposed to the sentiments of Rlr. Wesley, who was a warm defender of the somewhat questionable policy pursued by the ministers of that ruinous period. He was opposed also to the constitution afterwards given to Canada, conceiving that the Roman Catholic religion had been too much favoured; and, in 1778, he was equally opposed to the attempt then made to repeal certain enactments against the Catholics of Great Eritain, on which subject he entered into a correspondence with Mr. Burke, which was published. Without reference to their merits, the political sentiments of Dr. Erskine were at least entitled to respect, from the conscientiousness with which they were entertained, and the independence with which they were asserted. As a man, Dr. Erskine was remarkable for the simplicity of his manner, and in his conduct exhibited a genuine example of that humility and charitableness so prominent in the character of Christianity. He was ardent and benevolent in his disposition, and his affections were lasting and sincere. In proof of this, his continued friendship for his opponent, Dr. Robertson, is instanced as a noble example, The moderate, and perhaps somewhat liberal, views of the latter gentleman respecting the repeal of the penal statutes against the Catholics in Scotland, had so highly incensed the mob of Edinburgh in 17 7 8, that a furious party had actually assembled in the College-yard for the purpose of demolishing the house of the Principal, which they would in all probability have done, in These were-“ Mr. Wesley’s Principles Detected ; or a Defence of the Preface to the Edinburgh edition of ‘ Aspaaio Vindicated,’ in answer to Mr. Kershaw’s Appeal.”-“ Theological Dissertations, (1.) On the Nature of the Sinai Covenant. (2.) On the Character and Privileges of the Apostolic Churches. (3.) On the Nature of Saving FaitL”
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