ERSKINE, JOHN: Church of Scotland; b. at Edinburgh 1720 or 1721; d. there Jan. 19, 1803. His father was a distinguished member of the Scottish bar, and, deferring to his parents' wishes, John Erskine at first applied himself to the study of his father's profession. But a strong predilection for the Church had been early formed and showed itself, even while he was still a student in Edinburgh, in the publication of a theological work which gained him the friendship and correspondence of Bishop Warburton. He became a licentiate of the Church in 1743; and in 1744 he was ordained minister of the parish of Kirkintilloch, near Glasgow. In this laborious country charge Dr. Erskine, from the first, devoted himself earnestly and faithfully to his professional duties. And here, also, he formed those habits of careful preparation for the pulpit which never failed to render his sermons (which are vigorous expositions of Calvinism), if not eloquent, interesting and useful.
At this period of his life he began to maintain friendly intercourse on religious questions with representatives of foreign churches. In an age of bigotry and intolerance--at least among the members of the party to which he himself belonged--Dr. Erskine was, if no Broad-churchman in the modern acceptation of the term, a man of wide sympathies and enlightened Christian liberality. In the list of his earliest correspondents were several distinguished ministers of America, among them Jonathan Edwards. The strained relations between Britain and her American colonies distressed him deeply, and he published several pamphlets urging mutual concessions to prevent the war which eventually broke out. Reference has already been made to his friendly relations with Bishop Warburton, and he also corresponded with Bishop Hurd. He was no less friendly with some of the English dissenters, especially Whitefield (who preached in his pulpit at Kirkintilloch) and the Wesleys. His correspondence with members of the Continental Churches was long carried on with difficulty owing to his ignorance of any foreign language except French; but at the age of sixty he gained a competent knowledge of Dutch and German. He advocated and strenuously defended missions to the heathen at a time when both Churchmen and dissenters in Scotland at any rate were equally indifferent to what is now regarded as one of the chief obligations of the Christian Church.
In 1753 Dr. Erskine was translated from Kirkintilloch to the parish of Culross, and thence he removed, in 1758, to New Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh; after nine years, he went to the Collegiate Church of Old Greyfriars in the same city. Here he had Principal Robertson, the historian of Charles V., as his colleague and, in spite of their differences in ecclesiastical politics, as one of his best friends. As an Edinburgh minister, he was called to take a more prominent place in public business than before. As a leader in the church courts, he represented for many years the Evangelical or popular party in the Church. In this position, as in every other, he was far from adopting extreme views; and he enjoyed the respect and esteem of all parties throughout the whole of his long and useful life. His contributions to literature (twenty-five publications in all) include a volume of Theological Dissertations (London, 1765) ; Considerations on the Spirit of Popery (1778); and two volumes of Discourses (1798, 1804). He edited and republished various works of Jonathan Edwards and other Americans.
(WILLIAM LEE.) HENRY COWAN.