Glas, John (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

GLAS, JOHN (1695–1773), Scottish sectary, only son of Alexander Glas (d. 1724), minister of Auchtermuchty, Fifeshire, afterwards of Kinclaven, Perthshire, and Christian, daughter of John Duncan, minister of Rerwick, Kirkcudbrightshire, was born at Auchtermuchty on 21 Sept. 1695. From the parish school of Kinclaven he went to the Perth grammar school, and thence to St. Leonard's College, St. Andrews, where he graduated A.M. on 6 May 1713. He finished his studies in Edinburgh. On 20 May 1718 he was licensed by Dunkeld presbytery, was called to Tealing, Forfarshire, on 19 Feb., and ordained there on 6 May 1719. He soon became very popular as a preacher. On 13 July 1725 he formed a society of nearly a hundred persons within his parish for a monthly celebration of the Lord's supper and closer religious fellowship. His father first warned him that his principles were those of an independent. At the end of the year he addressed a letter to Francis Archibald, minister of Guthrie, Forfarshire, denying the binding obligation of the national covenants. His views in opposition to state churches and the right of the civil authority to interfere in religious matters were embodied in his ‘Testimony of the King of Martyrs,’ 1727, a publication which brought him before the church courts, when he withdrew his signature from the formula, and renounced some passages in the confession of faith. The synod of Angus and Mearns suspended him on 18 April 1728, a sentence confirmed by the general assembly in May. As he disregarded the suspension, the synod deposed him from the ministry on 15 Oct. On appeal to the assembly, great efforts were made in his favour by influential elders, including Duncan Forbes (1685–1747) [q. v.] then lord advocate, who pleaded for indulgence to the speculative opinions of a man of high character and usefulness. At length, on 12 March 1730, the commission of assembly affirmed the deposition.

Glas removed to Dundee, where he formed a church to his mind, the members of which were popularly termed Glassites. His principles have been described as akin to Brownism, but they approached more nearly to the type of independent presbyterianism set forth by early English puritans, e.g. by William Bradshaw (1571–1618) [q. v.]. But Glas did not, with Bradshaw, recognise the prerogative of the sovereign in religious matters, a congregation with its presbytery being ‘subject to no jurisdiction under heaven.’ He introduced sundry practices on the ground of apostolic direction, such as the ‘osculum pacis,’ and later the agape, in the shape of a common meal, whence his followers received the nickname of ‘kailites.’ With the formation of other congregations came the question of providing a ministry. Only two clergymen joined him, and this at a later date, namely, George Byres of St. Boswells, Roxburghshire, in 1738, and Robert Ferrier of Largo, Fifeshire, in 1768. Glas, though himself a good scholar, set aside the strong presbyterian feeling in favour of an academical training for the clergy. He was at one with the quakers also on the point of ministerial emolument, though he went beyond them in his estimate of the common duty of the church to be responsible for the maintenance of all its members. The first ‘elder’ appointed to carry on the new organisation was James Cargill, a glover and an able preacher, who had charge of the congregation at Dunkeld.

In 1733 Glas left Dundee for Perth, where he built the first meeting-house of the new sect amid considerable opposition. At Perth the cause received an important accession in the person of Robert Sandeman [q. v.] who, in his twentieth year, joined Glas and two others in an application to the ‘associate presbytery,’ recently organised by Ebenezer Erskine [q. v.]. Two years later (22 May 1739) the general assembly of its own motion restored Glas to ‘the status of a minister of Jesus Christ, but not to that of a minister of the kirk of Scotland,’ leaving him incapable of holding a charge in the church until he should have renounced such tenets as were inconsistent with its constitution.

Unlike that of the Erskines, Glas's popularity deserted him upon his secession. Though he deviated but slightly from Calvinistic orthodoxy, there was a dry literalism about some of his views unfavourable to fervour. Faith he defined as a bare intellectual acceptance of certain facts. With the Wesleyans he discarded the doctrine of ‘final perseverance,’ but the methodist ‘conversion’ was as unreal to him as the Calvinistic ‘assurance.’ He showed his good sense by rejecting (1759) the Hutchinsonian discovery of a complete system of physical science in holy scripture, maintaining that ‘the Bible was never designed to teach mankind philosophy.’ His notes on scripture texts (1747) exhibit a good deal of theological acumen; his monograph on the heresy of Aerius (1745) is a scholarly piece of work; and still better is his reconstruction, from Origen's citations, of the ‘True Discourse’ of Celsus, of which he prepared (1753) a translation with notes. His sacred ‘songs’ have no poetical merit.

Glas was of even and cheerful disposition, in company free from professional stiffness, and not without a sense of humour. ‘I too can be grave at times,’ he replied to an austere critic, ‘when I want money, or want righteousness.’ His strength of character in trying circumstances was remarkable. After the execution of the murderers of his son, his first thought was of the ‘glorious instance of the divine mercy, if George Glas and his murderers should meet in heaven.’ Glas died at Perth on 2 Nov. 1773. He married Katharine (d. December 1749), eldest daughter of Thomas Black, minister at Perth, and had fifteen children, all of whom he survived. Of his sons, Alexander was the writer of some of the best of the ‘Christian Songs’ published by the sect; George [q. v.] was the ablest of the family; Thomas became a bookseller at Dundee. His daughter Katharine married Robert Sandeman. In Scotland the sect is still known as Glassites; in England and America, to which it spread through the influence of Sandeman's labours, the name Sandemanian is given to it. In addition to the parent body there are several smaller sects which owe their origin to the writings of Glas, e.g. the Johnsonian baptists and the ‘separatists’ who follow the teaching of John Walker of Dublin.

Glas's ‘Works’ were collected in his lifetime and published, Edinb. 1761–2, 4 vols. 8vo; a second and more complete edition was issued at Dundee, 1782–3, 5 vols. 8vo. The most characteristic are: 1. ‘The Testimony of the King of Martyrs concerning his Kingdom,’ &c., Edinb. 1727, 8vo; also 1728, 8vo; 1729, 8vo; 1747, 8vo (preface by Robert Ferrier); 1776, 12mo; 1777, 12mo; 1813, 12mo. 2. ‘An Explication,’ &c., 1728. 3. ‘The Speech before the Commission,’ &c., 1730. 4. ‘A Letter to Mr. John Willison … concerning Illiterate Ministers,’ 1734. 5. ‘The Scheme of Justification by Faith agreeable to Common Sense,’ &c., 1753. Others are noticed above. Not included in the ‘Works’ is 6. ‘Christian Songs,’ 6th edit. Perth, 1784, 12mo; 9th edit. Edinb. 1805, 12mo (has unauthorised alterations); 13th edit. Perth, 1847, 12mo (the printer was R. Morison, who had printed the 6th edition sixty-four years previously; in this edition are sixteen compositions by Glas, besides two doubtful ones).

[Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scotic.; Wilson's Dissenting Churches in London, 1810, iii. 261 sq.; Hurd's Religious Rites, 1811, pp. 644 sq.; Grub's Eccl. Hist. of Scotland, 1861, iv. 55; Anderson's Scottish Nation, 1870, ii. 307; Hunt's Religious Thought in England, 1873, iii. 222 sq.; Russell's Congregationalism, in Religions of the World, 1877, pp. 224 sq.; Glas's Works.]

A. G.