Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 17.djvu/412
references are often inaccurate, while its invective against the repeal of the penal statutes against witchcraft, and its dealing with the rights of other men's consciences, detract from the nobility of its protest. In exhibiting hostility to the union with England, the testimony simply resumes the attitude of the assembly itself, which for years had treated the union as an occasion for national fasting. The issue of the testimony was followed by important adhesions to the cause of secession. In February 1737 Ralph Erskine and Thomas Mair of Orwell joined the ‘associate presbytery.’ Later in the year parliament passed an act in reference to the murder of Captain Porteous, and ordered that every minister of the church of Scotland should read the act from the pulpit once a month for a year on pain of deprivation. Two ministers, Thomas Nairn of Abbotshall and James Thompson of Burntisland, joined the ‘associate presbytery’ rather than obey the Erastian ordinance; and the reading of the act led to further secessions in many parishes. The ‘associate presbytery’ now began to provide for a supply of ministers by licensing candidates.
In 1738 the assembly, on a complaint from the synod of Perth, directed the standing commission to bring the eight seceders before the next assembly. They were cited individually to appear at the assembly's bar in May 1739, to answer charges of ‘crimes’ and ‘enormities.’ They met, and passed an act of ‘declinature’ renouncing the assembly's authority. On 18 May they appeared as a presbytery at the assembly's bar. The moderator of assembly expressed the willingness of the church to ignore what had passed if the seceders would return. Mair, as their moderator, explained that they took the position of an independent judicatory. The libel against them was read; Mair read the ‘declinature’ in reply, and the ‘associate presbytery’ withdrew. Still the assembly, which contained such men as John Willison of Brechin, in strong sympathy with the general views of the seceders, did not proceed to extreme measures. The seceders were again cited to the assembly of 1740. They disregarded the summons, and on 15 May, by a majority of 140 to 30, they were formally deposed.
Next Sunday (18 May) Erskine's congregation at Stirling found the doors of the West Church locked against them. They were about to break in, when Erskine interposed, led a vast concourse to the Abbey Craig, just outside the town, and conducted public worship. Till a meeting-house (erected 1740) was ready for him he continued to officiate in the open air.
The seceders took vigorous steps to consolidate their position. Wilson was their professor of divinity, and Ralph Erskine writes to Whitefield (10 April 1741) that he had ‘moe candidates for the ministrie under his charge than most of the public colleges, except Edinburgh.’ At the invitation of the seceders Whitefield visited Scotland, preaching his first sermon in the parish church of Dunfermline, from which Ralph Erskine had not yet been excluded. In August 1741 Whitefield held a conference with the ‘associate presbytery.’ They wanted him to preach only for them, because they were ‘the Lord's people.’ Whitefield characteristically replied that ‘the devil's people’ had more need to be preached to. A rupture ensued, and the subsequent ‘revival’ at Cambuslang, under Whitefield's preaching, was denounced by the seceders as a satanic delusion. When Wesley subsequently visited Scotland (1751), he considered the seceders ‘more uncharitable than the papists.’
On 28 Dec. 1743, Erskine revived at Stirling the practice of public covenanting. The secession was rapidly growing; and on 11 Oct. 1744 it was organised as an ‘associate synod,’ containing the three presbyteries of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dunfermline. From the north of Ireland applications for ministerial supply had been received as early as 1736, and were repeatedly renewed by seceding minorities from presbyterian congregations. The Irish interest was placed under the care of the Glasgow presbytery; and at length, on 9 July 1746, Isaac Patton was ordained at Lylehill, co. Antrim, by a commission from Glasgow. Nowhere was the work of the secession more important than in Ulster, where, in spite of great opposition, it exercised a very potent influence in restoring to presbyterianism its evangelical character.
During the rebellion of 1745, Erskine and his followers mounted guard at Stirling in defence of the town. Stirling was taken, and Erskine then preached to his congregation in the wood of Tullibody, some miles to the north. In 1746 he headed two companies of seceders against the ‘Pretender,’ and received a special letter of thanks from the Duke of Cumberland.
But now a question of religious politics arose, which split the secession into two antagonistic parties. Already in 1741 the seceders had been at issue on the question of appointing a public fast, on the day fixed for the established church by the crown. Erskine was with the minority who would have been willing to adopt the ordinary day. At the first meeting of the ‘associate synod’ the terms of the civic oath taken by burgesses of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Perth came