"The Gospel in its Majesty" : the theology and ministry of Ebenezer Erskine
Myers, Stephen G. (Stephen Goodnight)
Traditionally, Ebenezer Erskine (1680-1754)- a leading Marrow Representer and 'founder' of the Secession Church- has been understood as either reclaiming a lost evangelical element of Scottish theology or portending a new factionalism that ultimately would splinter a formerly united Kirk. Such considerations of Erskine, however, have been undertaken without serious consideration being given to his theology and have been pursued in accordance with the historiographical interests of the later Secession Church. In the present work, Erskine is established within his own context- historical, ecclesiastical, and theological- and attention is given to the doctrinal system that shaped his ministry and his succession of controversial engagements. The picture that emerges is that of a man driven by two chief theological emphases- an evangelical federalism and a modified Covenantalism. In both of these doctrinal systems, Erskine was self-consciously drawing upon the complex inheritance of Scottish theology, particularly the systems of Westminster federalism and of Covenantal dissent within the Revolution Church, and was seeking to apply those systems to a contemporary Scotland that had been radically altered by the Union of 1707; the advent of toleration in 1712; and the theological commitments embodied in John Simson, Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow. When Erskine is thus understood as seeking to contextually apply a commonly-inherited body of Scottish theology, new understandings of his involvement in Kirk-shaping controversies arise, presenting a more coherent picture of a major figure in the history of the Kirk, bringing increased clarity to an obscure age, and proving instructive to a twenty-first century Church facing similar issues yet unaware of Erskine's sometimes contentious testimony to contextual fidelity.