1902 Encyclopedia > Thomas Erskine

Thomas Erskine
Scottish writer on theology and religion

THOMAS ERSKINE, of Linlathen (1788-1870), a writer on theology and religion, son of David Erskine, writer to the signet in Edinburgh, and of Anne Graham, of the Grahams of Airth, was born 13th October 1788. He was a descendant of the earl of Mar, regent of Scotland in the reign of James VI., a grandson of John Erskine of Carnock, and a nephew of the Rev. Dr John Erskine, both noticed above. After being educated at the High School of Edinburgh and at Durham, he attended the literary and law classes at the university of Edinburgh; and becoming in 1810 a member of the Edinburgh faculty of advocates, he for some time enjoyed the intimate acquaintance of Cockburn, Jeffrey,. Scott, and the other distinguished men whose talents then, lent an unusual lustre to the Scotch bar. On the death of his elder brother in 1816 he succeeded to the family estate-of Linlathen, near Dundee, and retired from the bar— occupying the chief portion of his subsequent life in the-management of his estate, in the intercourse of a few select friends, and in the discussion—either by conversation, by letters, or by literary publications—of those religious topics which he considered to have a vital relation to man's highest welfare. The writings of Erskine are perhaps deficient in robustness of thought, but they are clothed in a graceful style, and possess a certain originality and interest, due chiefly to his strong earnestness, unaffected sincerity, and fine moral insight. His theological views have a consider-able similarity to those of Frederick Denison Maurice, who acknowledges having been indebted to him for his first true conception of the meaning of Christ's sacrifice. Erskine had little interest in the " historical criticism" of Chris-tianity, and regarded as the only proper criterion of its truth its conformity or nonconformity with man's spiritual nature, and its adaptability or non-adaptability to man's universal and deepest spiritual needs. He considered the incarnation of Christ as the necessary manifestation to man of an eternal sonship in the divine nature, apart from which those filial qualities which God demands from man could have no sanction ; and by faith as used in Scripture he understood to be meant a certain moral or spiritual condition which virtually implied salvation, because it implied the existence of a principle of spiritual life possessed of an immortal power. This faith, he believed, could be properly awakened only by the manifestation, through Christ, of love as the law of life, and as identical with an eternal righteous-ness which it was God's purpose to bestow on every individual soul. During the last 33 years of his life Mr Erskine did not engage in any literary efforts. He spent the summer generally at Linlathen, and the winter either at Edinburgh, Paris, Geneva, or Lausanne. On the Continent he enjoyed the society of, among others, Mdme. Vernet, the duchess de Broglie, the younger Mdme. de Staël, and M. Vinet of Lausanne, and among his most intimate friends in this country were Edward Irving, Frederick Maurice, Dean Stanley, Bishop Ewing, Dr John Brown, and Thomas Carlyle. He exercised con-siderable influence over the whole circle of his acquaintance by his unassuming earnestness in advocating his religious views, and by the rare qualities of his personal character. He died at Edinburgh 20th March 1870.

His principal works are Remarks on the Internal Evidence for the Truth of Revealed Religion (1820), an Essay on Faith (1822), and the Unconditional Frecness of the Gospel (1828). These have all passed through several editions, and have also been translated into French. He is also the author of the Brazen Serpent (1831), the Doctrine of Election (1839), several " Introductory Essays'' to edi-tions of Christian Authors, and a posthumous work entitled Spiri-tual Order and Other Papers (1871). Two vols, of his letters, edited by William Hanna, D.D., with reminiscences by Dean Stanley and Principal Shairp, appeared in 1877.

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