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FOR AUGUST, 1801.
MEMOIR OF THE REV. EBENEZER ERSKINE. THIS excellent man was the son of the Rev. Henry
Erskine, a younger child of Ralph Erskine, Esq. of Shielfield, a respectable family in Berwickshire, and descended from the ancient house of Mar. Henry, was born at Dryburgh, the family-feat, in 1624, and ordained, by the English Presbyterians, to the paitoral office at Cornhil, in the county of Northumberland. But he had scarcely resided three years in that place, when he was ejected from his charge by the Act of Uniforinity, commonly called The Bartholomew Act, which required the Presbyterian ninisters to be ordained in the Episcopal form, and to comply with the liturgy of the English church*. Having suffered a variety of hardships, during the reign of the royal brothers, he was, soon after the Revolution in 1688, called to be minister at Chirnfide, near Berwick; where he died on the 10th of August, 1696, in the 728 year of his age.
His son Ebenezer, the lubject of this memoir, was born on the 22d of June, 1680. Having gone through a regular course of education at the university of Edinburgh, he was, in 1703, ordained to the pastoral office at Portmoak, in the presbytery of Kirkcaldy. Not long after which, he married Alison Turpie, a young lady of amiable disposition and distinguished piety, by whom he had several children, who were all honourably settled in life. Diligent, as he was, in composing his fermons, and committing them to meinory, yet, such was his modesty and diffidence, that, for some years, 'he had not courage to look round upon his audience; but delivered his discourses from the pulpit with his eyes fixed upon a great stone in the wall of the church immediately opposite to him. During the first period of his ministry at Portmoak, his views of the truth were far from clear or correct; and his discourses, like those of many worthy men at that time, whose hearts were better than their heads, contained a mixture of legal and evangelical doctrine. His amiable spouse was lignally inftrumental in producing an happy change in his views of divine truth, of which he afterwards made the
* See the Continuation of Calamy's Life of Baster, p, 6786 VOL, IX,
most tender acknowledgments to his children and friends. Having been brought to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus,” he was inspired with an holy zeal for the spread of it among his people ; and accordingly, in addition to the usual paftoral duties of catechizing and visitation of his flock from house to house, he set up a weekly leca ture on Thursday, which was well attended, not only by his own hearers, but by others from the neighbouring congregations. Being established in the knowledge and faith of the Gospel, he acquired great freedom and boldness in the publication of it; and his talents, as a public speaker, either in the pulpit or the ecclesiastical courts, becoming more and more conspicuous, he shone with diftinguished lustre among his brethren in the ministry. When the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, by their act 1720, condemned, as erroneous, a book entitled, " The Marrow of Modern Divinity,” he was one of the twelve minifters who gave in a representation and petition to the assembly 1721, setting forth, that many precious truths of Christ were condemned by that act; and therefore crav. ing the repeal of it. His brethren had such an esteem for his abilities, that when they had made the first draft of their representation and petition, they employed him to put it into proper forin, to be afterwards revised by the brethren in that part of the country *. It was then presented to the assembly, who declined entering on the bu. finess, but referred it to their commission; and the commiffion, which met in November that same year, put twelve queries to the petitioners, to be answered in writing against their next ineeting in March following. The answers to the queries were begun by Mr, Erskine nt; and being finished by the Rev. Mr. Willon, of Maxton, were presented to the commission, with a protestation prefixed to thein. Thele answers, which wert afterwards printed, contain a masterly defence of many leading truths of the Gospel, and richly deserve the serious attention of students in theology and young minifters. They will also acquire clear and confiftent views of evangelical doctrine hy a careful perasal of the “ Act of the Associate Prefbytcry anent the Doctrine of Grace."
Mr. Erskine's reputation as a preacher had now risen so high, that when the Lord's fupper was dispensed at Portmoak, great numbers of serious and lively Chriftians from different parts of the country attended, and some of them * See Pçien's Niemoirs, p. 37.)
5. Ibid. p. 37%.
from places lixty or feventy miles diftant; and so great was the concourse of people on those occasions, that they had frequently two places for public worship, befides the parish-church. So remarkably did the Lord Jesus give testimony to the word of his grace, that not a few of those people, on their death-beds, spoke of the braes (rifing grounds) of Portmoak as so many Bethels, where God Almighty met with them, and blessed them.-Mr. Erskine suffered an almost irreparable lors in the death of his beloved wife, Alison Turpie, who slept in Jesus, after have ing born him ten children. Some time after her death, his brother Ralph, who was minifter at Dunfermline, having come to lee - him, wrote the following verses, in commemoration of her death;
The law brought forth her precepts ten,
And then diffolv'd in grace ;
In glory took her place.
Did that sweet anthem fing,
“ O death, where is thy sting?" In the large edition of Mr. Ralph Erskine's works, published at Glasgow, these lines are said to have been written on the death of his own (poule, Margaret Dewar; but the writer of this had the following account of them from Mr. Ebenezer's eldest daughter, Mrs. Fisher, of Glasgow. “ My uncle, Ralph," said she, “ being on a visit at our house, was walking through the parlour while the servant was bringing out his horse from the stable; and observing my mother's Bible lying on a table near the window, he took out his pen and ink, and, setting his foot upon a chair, with the Bible on his knee, immediately wrote these lines on the blank leaf fronting the title-page."
Having been left a widower with a young family, the oldest of whom was not above thirteen years of age, Mr. Erskine afterwards married a daughter of the Rev. James Webfter, of Edinburgh, who bore him several children; none of whom are now alive. His character and talents as a minister were so extenfively known, that he was called to exercise his gifts in many places at a contiderable distance from his own parish; and the town of Stirling, finding it necessary to have another minister in addition to the Rev. Messrs. Hainilton and Muir, gave him an unanimous call ; upon which he was translated to Stirling in 1731,
after he had been twenty-eight years minister at Portmoak. Having been elected Moderator of the Synod of Perth and Stirling in April 1732, he opened the next meeting at Perth with a fermon from Psal. cxviii. 22. «« The storie which the builders refused, is become the head Itone of the corner." The General Assembly of the Church, which met in the inonth of May preceding, having pafled an act, investing the decisive power of electing and calling minifters (where an accepted presentation did not take place) in the majority of a conjunct meeting of heritors and elders being Protestants, Mr. Erskine considered this act as a manifest encroachment on the divine prerogative of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the sole King and head of his church, as well as a violation of the natural rights of Christian people; and therefore, with a becoming freedom, and a boldness peculiar to himself, teftified against it, as contrary to the word of God and the fundamental principles of the constitution. This public teftimony, in which he was joined by the Rev. Messrs. Wilson, of Perth ; Moncrief, of Abernethy; and Fisher, (then) of Kinclaven, brought these four brethren, by a process, before the General Assembly; which terminated in their ejection from the established church. The fecesfion was now formally stated. Mr. Erskine, poffeffing the affections of his people, who were well satisfied with regard to the rectitude of his conduct, the great body of the congregation stedfastly adhering to his ministry, joined with him in the secession, and built for him one of the largeft meeting-houses in Scotland, capable of containing between three and four thousand people, numbers of whom came from different parts of the adjacent country, and placed themselves under his miniftry. There arc, at present, fix different congregations with settled ministers, formed from that of Stirling, which is still so numerous, that it is a collegiate charge. Mr. Erskine coming into the decline of life, his congregation frankly agreed to give Kim an affiftant in the ministry; and, accordingly, his nephew, Mr. James Erskine, being regularly called, was ordained colleague and fucceffor to his uncle, who preached the ordination-sermon from 2 Cor. iv. 7. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." But being unable, on account of bodily weakness, to go through the whole of the folemn service, his son-in-law, the Rev.
Mr. Fisher, of Glasgow, gave the charge, and concluded the service with a fermon from Col. i. 7. “ Epaphras, our dear fellow-servant, who is for you a faithful minister of Chrift."- Mr. Erskine having been for several years much afflicted with a fiftula, was advised to undergo an operation ; to which he consented. On the day when this was to be performed, he was remarkably cheerful; and every thing being ready, “Come,” said he," let us take a glass of wine before the doctor begins to mangle my body.” This speech seems to have been prophetic, for the wound never healed; and, after languishing for a con. siderable time, under much pain, which he bore with christian meekness and magnanimity, he fell afleep in Jesus on the 2d day of June, 1754, in the 74th year of his age, and fifty-first of his ministry, having been twentyeight years minister at Portmoak, and twenty-three at Stirling. By his own desire, his body was interred in the middle of his meeting, opposite his pulpit; and a large stone covers his
grave. With a clear head and a warın heart, he was possessed of strong natural powers of mind, and an healthy conftitution, which rendered him capable of great - application in the ftudy of divine truths. As a skilful textuary, he entered deeply into his subject, and spoke like one who felt the power, and believed the truths of the Gospel. Having known the truth, he was steady, in his attachment to it; and, in the ecclefiaftical courts, he stood forth a champion for what he believed to be the cause of Christ, with a degree of fortitude which increased in proportion to the opposition that was raised against it. He was a popular preacher in the most proper fense. His manner of preaching was peculiarly suited to the capacity of his hearers, His language was equally free from base vulgarity, or unmeaning pomp; and, while he took the Scripture for his model, he freely spoke the dialect of his country, which was best understood. With a manly countenance, a clear voice, a pleasant delivery, and a commanding eye, he kept the attention of his audience through a long discourse, while some of them wished that it had been much longer. Mild and condescending in his behaviour, he stood high in the csteem of his brethren in the ministry; and although he was endued with gifts fuperior to the most of them, yet his modefty and self-denial were such that he was sometimes afraid to lucceed them in the pulpit. After