Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Flint, Robert
FLINT, ROBERT (1838–1910), philosopher and theologian, born near Dumfries on 14 March 1838, was the son of Robert Flint, at that time a farm overseer, by his wife (born Johnston). His first school was at Moffat. In 1852 he entered Glasgow University, where he distinguished himself (without graduating) in arts and divinity. Having been employed as a lay missionary by the 'Elders' Association' of Glasgow, he was licensed to preach in 1858, and for a short time acted as assistant to Norman Macleod the younger [q. v.], at the Barony Church, Glasgow. He was minister of the East Church, Aberdeen (1859–62) and of Kilconquhar, Fife (1862–4), a country parish, which gave him leisure for study, improved by visits to Germany. On the death of James Frederick Ferrier [q. v.] in 1864 Flint was elected to succeed him in the moral philosophy chair at St. Andrews University, among the competing candidates being Thomas Hill Green [q. v.]. This chair he held till 1876, when he succeeded Thomas Jackson Crawford [q. v.] in the divinity chair of Edinburgh University. On this appointment he was made LL.D. of Glasgow and D.D. of Edinburgh. Thomas Chalmers [q. v.] had similarly migrated from the one chair to the other. Flint was appointed to a number of foundation lectureships. He was Baird lecturer (1876–7); in 1880 he crossed to America, and delivered a course as Stone lecturer at Princeton; in 1887-8 he was Croall lecturer. He was elected on 21 May 1883 corresponding member of the Institute of France (Académie des sciences morales et politiques), and was a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He resigned his chair to devote himself to literary work, a purpose hampered by failing health. For some time he lived at Musselburgh. He delivered the Gifford lectures in 1908-9. He died, unmarried, at his residence, 3 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh, on 25 Nov. 1910.
Flint was in person spare but well knit; his pale features wore an expression of self-command; his dark moustache gave distinction to his clerical garb. He had few intimates, and lived much of his life apart, devoted to his studies, always a hard reader, of extraordinary diligence in research and facile power of mastery. He had no taste for amusements, country walks being his one recreation. With his students he was popular, for he was patient and kind; yet it is said that of them all only two were ever privileged to accompany him in his walks. His methods were deliberate, his composition slow and sure in a small and neat handwriting, his speech measured and with some peculiarities of enunciation, e.g. 'awtoms,' 'know-ledge.' All his work was planned on a large scale; the cycle of his divinity lectures extended to seven sessions; his best-known books, complete in themselves, were parts of wider schemes; his sermons have been described as of 'magnificent length and toughness'; that his preaching was highly esteemed was due to his easy grasp of his subject, the elevation of his treatment, his straight-forward style, and the convincing tones of his penetrating voice. As a thinker his characteristic was the confidence with which he brought all matters to the test of reason, trusting it as a guide to positive conclusions, and resting nothing on sentimental or prudential grounds. On lines of independent judgment he followed in the succession of Butler and Paley, welcoming every advance of physical science and speculative thought as enlarging the field for critical investigation and helping to clear the issue. His students were stimulated to the exercise of their own minds and to the attainment of a high intellectual standard. In church matters he kept aloof from many current controversies, but on occasion (1882) arguing strongly for the maintenance of the national church on a basis of 'mutual understanding, conciliation and peace.' In connection with the Edinburgh University tercentenary in 1884, in a series of professorial portraits by William Hole, Flint is etched in knightly armour as champion of the common faith. On his retirement in 1903 his portrait, painted by Sir George Reid, was presented to him by his students; it is now in his sister's possession, but is ultimately to belong to the Edinburgh University.
He wrote: 1. 'The Earth is the Lord's,' 1859 (sermon, Ps. xxiv. 1, 2). 2. 'Christ's Kingdom upon Earth,' 1865 (sermons). 3. 'The Philosophy of History in [Europe] France and Germany,' 1874; translated into French by Professor Ludovic Carrau of Besançon. 4. 'Theism,' 1877 (Baird Lecture); 7th edit., 1889. 5. 'Antitheistic Theories,' 1879 (Baird Lecture); 3rd edit. 1885. 6. 'A Sermon,' Edinburgh, 1881 (on Rev. i. 5). 7. 'The Covenant, 1660 to 1690,' Edin. 1881 (lecture). 8. 'Christianity in relation to other Religions,' Edin. 1882 (lecture). 9. 'The Duties of the People of Scotland to the Church of Scotland,' Edin. 1882 (lectures). 10. 'Vico,' 1884 (critical biography of Giovanni Battista Vico). 11. 'The Claims of Divine Wisdom,' Edin. 1885 (sermon to young). 12. 'The Church Question in Scotland,' 1891. 13. 'History of the Philosophy of History,' Edin. 1893 (first section, 'Historical Philosophy in France and French Belgium and Switzerland,' 1893). 14. 'Socialism,' 1894; 2nd edit. 1908. 15. 'Hindu Pantheism,' 1897. 16. 'Sermons and Addresses,' 1899. 17. 'Agnosticism,' 1903 (Croall Lecture). 18. 'Philosophy as Scientia Scientiarum,' 1904. 19. 'On Theological, Biblical and other Subjects,' 1905. Besides these, he wrote many articles, especially those on 'Theism' and 'Theology,' in the ninth edition of the 'Encyclopædia Britannica.'
[Scotsman, and The Times, 26 Nov. 1910; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scotic. 1869, ii. 458; 1871, iii. 516; W. Hole, Quasi Cursores, 1884, 145, sq. (with portrait); Vapereau, Dict. des Contemp. 1893; W. I. Addison, Roll of Graduates, Univ. Glasg. 1898, 198; information from Mr. Andrew Clark, S.S.C.; personal recollection.]