18th Century Reformed Christianity in time and space

What events mark this period?

"The Age of Reason" in Scotland  is marked by the restoration of Presbyterianism in 1690, the role of literacy and higher education in the salvation of a bankrupt state, the rise of ecclesiastical parties in the Church of Scotland, and the first defeat of the Moderates in the 1805 General Assembly.

At the beginning of the period the 1689/90 revolution in Britain secured the future of Presbyterian Reformed Christianity as the religion of the Church of Scotland supported by the State as the most politically reliable of the options available. That reliability was always going to be dodgy and maintaining it strengthened the church in society while dividing it spiritually.

In the 1790s Britain reacted against the ideas flowing from the French Revolution of 1789. The rise of the missionary movement especially the London Missionary Society in 1795 and the local Scottish societies formed in its wake, seemed politically risky and supported by the "wrong" people. The 1796 General Assembly debate about official support for these missions, and the Leslie case of 1805 when the Evangelical party outvoted the Moderates signal the rise of missions and evangelicalism as the vision of a new age. They take forms of 18th piety and commitment and seek to extend them globally and into the slums of the new industrialised cities, setting the agenda and tone of the 19th century.

1690 Presbyterian settlement under William and Mary. Abolition of patronage
1696 Act for Settling Schools implement's Knox's vision of a school in every parish; by 1750 literacy in Scotland about 75% compared with England 53% (Herman p.23)
1697 18 year old Thomas Aikenhead, theology student, hung for blasphemy 8 January
1698 Darien fleets sails into disaster and national bankruptcy
1706 Presbyterian Synod formed in America
1707 Union of parliaments of England and Scotland (North Britain)
1709 Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge directed to the Highlands and Islands and to North America.
1712 Patronage restored
1720s Marrow of Divinity controversy - marginalises puritan piety, fear of antinomianism
1729 Francis Hutcheson Professor of Moral Philosophy Glasgow
1733 First Secession from the Church of Scotland
1742  Cambuslang Revival and "Concert for prayer".
1745 Rising by "Bonnie Prince Charlie" and its failure. His supporters were slaughtered at Culloden in 1746. Fear of the barbaric North leads to the suppression of Gaelic and the kilt, the forfeiture of estates, and English administration and pacification of the Highlands.
1751 William Robertson at General Assembly, remains key figure until 1780; 1762 Principal of Edinburgh University
1753 Rev John Home's play "Douglas" produced - a sign of Moderate domination
1761 Second Secession from the Church of Scotland
1776 Declaration of Independence by the 13 Atlantic colonies
1795 London Missionary Society founded following the Baptists in 1792. Strong support in Scotland.
1796 Church of Scotland General Assembly refuses to support missionary societies.
1805 Leslie Case. Moderates suffer first defeat in General Assembly
1813 Missionary clauses in the charter of the East India Company allows mission in India
1843 Disruption. One third leave Church of Scotland over patronage disputes.

How was the geography of Reformed Christianity changing?

The centre of gravity of Reformed Christianity at the beginning of the period lay with Holland - it is the Protestant House of Orange which provides leadership for Britain and provides the settlements in Scotland and Ireland which allow for the growth of Presbyterianism. The Dutch overseas empire is not so much encouraging mission as facilitating Reformed church identity as a loyal alternative to Portuguese Catholicism in Sri Lanka, Malaka, and Java. The Dutch presence in Taiwan is not sustained but the foundations of Dutch Reformed Christianity are laid in South Africa.  In Britain Reformed Christianity is present in Independent and Presybyterian churches in Britain and Ireland.

In North America Reformed Christianity sees the formation of the first synod and is associated with Puritanism and the First and Second Great Awakenings. Jonathan Edwards provides a theological and philosophical framework bridging religious experience and the sovereignty and mission of God. Presbyterian sensibilities inform the constitutional formation of the United States of America including through John Witherspoon.

Scotland is becoming the educational powerhouse of Europe as it embraces and redefines the Enlightenment.

What are the issues for a contemporary understanding of Reformed identity?

The North Atlantic interplay of experience in mission, revival, and the exchange of philosophical ideas (Scottish Common Sense) and theology (Edwards) between Scotland and North America.

The way in which theological differences and responses to a rationalist environment are navigated.

Commonalities and differences between moderate and evangelical identities as they emerge. Debates over "new light". Revival within the mainstream.

References and Links

A L Drummond, The Kirk and the Continent.

Michael Fry, The Scottish Empire, Tuckwell Press, 2001.

Summaries of the minutes of the Consistory of the Dutch Reformed Church in Colombo held at the Wovendaal Church, Colombo, volume 4A/1 (1735-1744)