Ebenezer Erskine was a minister in the Church of Scotland. However, he was an unhappy minister. He found the Bible tedious. He memorized his sermons but preached them without joy. His wife, Alison Turpie, wept at his hard heart. His religion was for the most part legalism (doing good works). He heard her speak with her brother, showing so much more real knowledge of God than he had, that his heart was troubled.
And then Alison almost died. Ebenezer sat beside her as she raved in delirium; her words, filled with thought of God, tore at his conscience. She recovered and Ebenezer talked with her about spiritual things.
As a boy, he had been deeply moved by the opening words of the ten commandments. "I am the Lord thy God who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." As the husband and wife talked, the words forced themselves back into his mind. Again they made a tremendous impact on him. For the first time in his life, God became alive to him. That night he got his "head out of time and into eternity." His conversion came on this day, August 26, 1708.
Good Scotsman that he was--for the Scots were a people of covenants--Ebenezer wrote out a covenant. "I offer myself up, soul and body, unto God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I flee for shelter to the blood of Jesus. I will live to Him; I will die to Him. I take heaven and earth to witness that all I am and all I have are His."
After that, Ebenezer's preaching focused strongly on Christ. Tirelessly, he visited the sick, taught from home to home, ate with his people, found out what they suffered and instructed their youth in the catechism. So many people came to hear him preach that his services often had to be moved outside where there was sufficient space for everyone.
At the time when he made his covenant, he was stationed at Portmoak. Afterwards he was offered a position at Stirling. This brought him into greater prominence. The Scottish Church and Assembly tried to stifle his words and reduce his influence. These men examined him in a humiliating manner and tried to force him to sign a revision of the Scottish confession. Under the old system (for example) no local congregation had to accept a minister against their will. Under the new, a minister could be imposed upon them. At least that is how Ebenezer interpreted the changes.
When Ebenezer preached against the new arrangement, he was ordered to be quiet. He would not. He and some others were suspended and finally ejected from their churches. Later, the church acknowledged it had broken its own rules by those procedures. Meanwhile, Ebenezer helped found the Secessionist Church. Later the Secessionists split over an oath. Regrettably, Ebenezer quarreled as badly as the rest.
- Boreham, Frank. "Ebenezer Erskine's Text," in A Handful of Stars. New York: Abingdon, 1922.
- "Ebenezer Erskine." Significant Scots. http://www.electricscotland.com/history/other/ erskine_ebenezer.htm
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.
Last updated July, 2007