First Secession

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File:Ebenezer Erskine statue, Stirling.jpg
Ebenezer Erskine statue in the Old Town Cemetery, Stirling

The First Secession was an exodus of ministers and members from the Church of Scotland in 1733. Those who took part formed the Associate Presbytery and later the United Secession Church. They were often referred to as seceders.

The First Secession arose out of an Act of the General Assembly of 1732, which was passed despite the disapproval of the large majority of individual presbyteries. This restricted to Heritors and Elders the right of nominating Ministers to vacancies where the Patron had not nominated within six months.[1] When Ebenezer Erskine wished to have his dissent recorded, it was found that a previous Act of 1730 had removed the right of recorded dissent,[2] and so the protests of the dissenters were refused. In the following October, Ebenezer Erskine, minister at Stirling, and, at the time, Moderator of the Synod of Stirling preached a sermon referring to the act as unscriptural and unconstitutional. Members of the synod objected, and he was censured.[3] On appeal, the censure was affirmed by the Assembly in May 1733,[4] but Erskine refused to recant.[5] He was joined in his protest by William Wilson (1690–1741), Alexander Moncrieff (1695–1761) and James Fisher (1697–1775) (ministers at Perth, Abernethy and Kinclaven respectively). They were regarded by the Assembly as being in contempt. When they still refused to recant, in November the protesting ministers were suspended. They replied by protesting that they still adhered to the principles of the Church, whilst at the same time seceding.

In December 1733 they constituted themselves into a new presbytery. In 1734 they published their first testimony, with a statement of the grounds of their secession, which made prominent reference to the doctrinal laxity of previous General Assemblies. In 1736 they proceeded to exercise judicial powers as a church court, published a judicial testimony, and began to organize churches in various parts of the country. Having been joined by four other ministers, including the well-known Ralph Erskine, they appointed Wilson Professor of Divinity. For these acts proceedings were again instituted against them in the General Assembly, and they were in 1740 all deposed and ordered to be ejected from their churches. Meanwhile, the membership of their 'Associate Presbytery' steadily increased, until in 1745 there were forty-five congregations, and it was reconstituted into an 'Associate Synod'.

A Second Secession from the Church of Scotland occurred in 1761, with Thomas Gillespie and others. This was called the Presbytery of Relief. This denomination later united with the United Secession Church to form the United Presbyterian Church.

See also


  1. Acts, 1732<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  2. Acts, 1730<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  3. Knight p. 494.
  4. Acts, 1733<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  5. Fraser, pp. 384 et seq.


  • Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 1730, 1732, 1734. Church Law Society, Edinburgh, 1843, British History Online [1]
  • Knight, Charles. The English Cyclopaedia: a New Dictionary of Universal Knowledge, Volume VIII, p494. Bradbury and Evans, London, 1861. [2]
  • Fraser, Donald. The Life and Diary of the Reverend Ebenezer Erskine, A.M.: of Stirling, Father of the Secession Church, to which is prefixed a memoir of his father, the Rev. Henry Erskine, of Chirnside. W Oliphant, Edinburgh, 1831. [3]
  • VanDoodewaard, William. The Marrow Controversy and Seceder Tradition. Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, 2011. [4]