ERSKINE, THOMAS: Scotch layman, known as "Thomas Erskine of Linlathen"; b. in Edinburgh Oct. 13, 1788; d. there Mar. 20, 1870. He was a nephew of John Erskine (q.v. ), was educated in Edinburgh, and practised law from 1810 to 1816; then succeeding to the family estate at Linlathen, near Dundee, he retired from the bar and spent the rest of his life in the care of his property and theological writing. While still a young man, he rebelled at the current Scotch theology, and at length found what he conceived was a better way in which to represent the divine revelation. His views are thus summarized in the Encyclopædia Britannica:
The only proper criterion of the truth of Christianity is "its conformity or nonconformity with man's spiritual nature, and its adaptability or non-adaptability to man's universal and deepest spiritual needs." The incarnation of Christ was "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." Faith as used in the Bible is 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 could be properly awakened only by the manifestation, through Christ, of love as the law of life, and as identical with an eternal righteousness which it was God's purpose to bestow on every individual soul."
Such views were not "orthodox," and at first subjected Mr. Erskine to considerable adverse criticism. But they gained favor; and he numbered among his intimate friends and correspondents some of the finest minds of the century, Thomas Carlyle, Edward Irving, Frederick Denison Maurice, John McLeod Campbell, Bishop Ewing, Norman Macleod, Dean Stanley, Adolphe Monod, and Alexandre Vinet. Maurice and Campbell were indebted to him for those conceptions of the Atonement which have had so great an effect upon later popular religious thought; and it was Campbell's public advocacy of them which led to his expulsion from the Kirk. Mr. Erskine's theology permeated his being, and it was his delight to impress his views upon all whom he met. His sincerity, earnestness, sympathy, and pure and lofty character gave him a great influence. D. J. Vaughan (Contemporary Review, June, 1878) includes him among four Scotchmen whose influence on English thought has been wide, deep, and lasting. Monod traced to a talk with him his deliverance from Socinianism. Vinet wrote: "Were it allowable to say 'I am of Paul' and 'I of Apollos,' I should say 'I am of Erskine.'"
His more important writings were: Remarks on the Internal Evidence for the Truth of Revealed Religion (Edinburgh, 1820; 10th ed., 1878); An Essay on Faith (1822); The Unconditional Freeness of the Gospel (1828; new ed., 1879); The Brazen Serpent, or, Life Coming through Death (1831; 3d ed., 1879); The Doctrine of Election (London, 1837; 2d ed., Edinburgh, 1878). Spiritual Order and Other Papers (Edinburgh, 1871) appeared posthumously, and in 1877 two volumes of Letters, ed. William Hanna, with reminiscences by Dean Stanley and Principal Shairp.
(WILLIAM LEE.) HENRY COWAN.