Fleming, Robert (1660?-1716) (DNB00)

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FLEMING, ROBERT, the younger (1660?–1716), presbyterian minister, son of Robert Fleming the elder [q. v.], was born at Cambuslang, Lanarkshire, about 1660. His early education was at the school of his uncle by marriage, John Sinclair, minister of Ormiston, Haddingtonshire. He entered into a religious ‘covenant’ at the age of thirteen, and set his heart on the ministry. In 1679 his father took him to Holland, where he studied at Leyden and Utrecht. He pursued his own course of reading, gaining a wide familiarity with classics and the fathers, and with theological writers of the most opposite schools. On 9 Feb. 1688 he was privately ordained by Scottish divines in Holland, without special charge. He removed to England, and was domestic chaplain in a private family for about four years. In 1692 he accepted a call to the pastorate of the English presbyterian congregation at Leyden. On his father's death he was invited to succeed him in the Scots Church at Rotterdam, to which he was inducted in 1695.

In 1698 Fleming received a call to the Scots Church, Founders' Hall, Lothbury. His acceptance was urged by William Carstares [q. v.], and William III, who had known him in Holland, ‘signified his desire to have him near his person.’ Fleming began his ministry at Founders' Hall on 19 June 1698. The meeting-house was rebuilt for him about 1700. His position was one of great influence, though he never became a public man. William III consulted him on the ecclesiastical affairs of Scotland, and he was in friendly relations with Archbishop Tenison. Through the influence of his kinsman, John, lord Carmichael, secretary of state for Scotland, he had the offer of the principalship of Glasgow University, but this he declined. On 15 May 1701 he succeeded Vincent Alsop as one of the Tuesday lecturers at Salters' Hall, a lectureship which represented the liberal side in the Calvinistic controversy. On 7 May 1707 he was the spokesman of the London ministers of the three denominations in presenting an address of congratulation to Queen Anne on the union with Scotland. These appointments were unusual in the case of one who, like Fleming, was distinctively a Scottish presbyterian. But Fleming's views were broad, and indeed he was the pioneer of a principle which afterwards became the symbol of the most liberal section of English dissent. His ‘Christology’ (1705–8) shows that while himself orthodox on the person of Christ, he was resolutely opposed to any form of subscription. He held the tenet of the pre-existence of our Lord's human soul.

Fleming inherited from his father a strong taste for studies directed by the aim of tracing the divine hand in history. To the speculations advanced in his ‘Apocalyptical Key’ (1701) he chiefly owes his posthumous fame. In 1793, and again in 1848, attention was directed to the apparent historical verification of some of his conjectures. He predicted the fall of the French monarchy by 1794 at latest, and fixed on a period ‘about the year 1848’ as the date at which the papacy would receive a fatal, though not immediately destructive blow. Fleming makes no pretensions to the character of a prophet; his speculations are put forward with the modesty of a devout student of history and scripture.

A serious illness laid Fleming aside for a time. On his recovery he paid a visit to Holland, where he took some part in political negotiations in the protestant interest. He returned, shortly before the accession of King George, in improved but still uncertain health. His weakness increased, and he died on 21 May 1716. Joshua Oldfield, D.D., preached his funeral sermon. He left a widow and several children.

He published: 1. ‘The Mirror of Divine Love … a poetical Paraphrase on the .., Song of Solomon … other Poems,’ &c., 1691, 8vo. 2. ‘An Epistolary Discourse … with a Second Part,’ &c., 1692, 8vo. 3. ‘A Discourse on Earthquakes,’ &c., 1693, 8vo; reprinted 1793. 4. ‘The Rod and the Sword,’ &c., 1694, 8vo; reprinted 1701 and 1793. 5. ‘Apocalyptical Key. An extraordinary Discourse on the Rise and Fall of Papacy,’ &c., 1701, 8vo (dedicated to Lord Carmichael); reprinted 1793, and Edinb. 1849, with memoir by Thomas Thomson. 6. ‘Discourses on Several Subjects,’ 1701, 8vo (includes No. 5). 7. ‘A Brief Account of Religion,’ &c., 1701, 8vo. 8. ‘Christology,’ &c., vol. i. 1705, 8vo (dedicated to Queen Anne); vols. ii. and iii., 1708, 8vo; an abridgment was published in one vol., Edinb. 1795, 8vo. 9. ‘The History of Hereditary Right,’ &c., 8vo (anon.; not seen; mentioned by Wilson). Also eight separate sermons at funerals and special occasions between 1688 and 1716.

[General Preface to Fleming's Christology, 1701 (many biographical details); Oldfield's Funeral Sermon, 1716; Protestant Dissenter's Magazine, 1799, p. 431; Wilson's Dissenting Churches, 1808, ii. 468 sq.; Calamy's Hist. Acc. of My Own Life, 1830, i. 441, ii. 63, 363; Thomson's Memoir, 1849; Anderson's Scottish Nation, 1870, ii. 222 sq.]

A. G.