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John Glas and the Development of Religious Pluralism in Eighteenth-Century Scotland

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 April 2019

School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, William Robertson Wing, Old Medical School, Teviot Place, Edinburgh EH8 9AG; e-mail:


This article discusses John Glas, a minister deposed by the Church of Scotland in 1728, in order to examine the growth of religious pluralism in Scotland. The article begins by considering why Glas abandoned Presbyterian principles of Church government, adopting Congregationalist views instead. Glas's case helped to change the Scottish church courts’ conception of deposed ministers, reflecting a reappraisal of Nonconformity. Moreover, Glas's experiences allow us to distinguish between church parties formed to conduct business, and those representing theological attitudes. Finally, Glas's case calls into question the broadest definitions of the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’, drawing attention to the emergence of pluralism.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019 

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For helpful comments on drafts of this article, I am grateful to Michael Riordan, Stewart J. Brown and this Journal's anonymous reviewer.


1 The biographical information in this paragraph is drawn from: John Thomas Hornsby, ‘John Glas (1695–1773)’, unpubl. PhD diss. Edinburgh 1936, pt i, and Derek B. Murray, ‘Glas, John (1695–1773)’, ODNB, <>.

2 Cf. Mitchison, Rosalind, ‘The social impact of the clergy of the Reformed Kirk of Scotland’, Scotia vi (1982), 1–13 at p. 5Google Scholar.

3 Glas, John, A narrative of the rise and progress of the controversy about the national Covenants, Edinburgh 1728, 2, 57Google Scholar.

4 Prunier, Clotilde, Anti-Catholic strategies in eighteenth-century Scotland, Frankfurt–am-Main 2004, 27, 2931Google Scholar; Darragh, James, ‘The Catholic population of Scotland since the year 1680’, Innes Review iv (1953), 4959 at p. 53CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Burnet, George B., The story of Quakerism in Scotland, 1650–1850, London 1952Google Scholar.

6 Kidd, Colin, ‘Conditional Britons: the Scots Covenanting tradition and the eighteenth-century British state’, EHR cxvii (2002), 1147–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Somerset, Douglas W. B., ‘Notes on some Scottish Covenanters and ultra-Covenanters of the eighteenth century’, Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal vi (2016), 87130Google Scholar.

7 Raffe, Alasdair, ‘Scotland’, in Gregory, Jeremy (ed.), The Oxford history of Anglicanism, II: Establishment and empire, 1662–1829, Oxford 2017, 150–9Google Scholar; Tristram N. Clarke, ‘The Scottish episcopalians, 1688–1720’, unpubl. PhD diss. Edinburgh 1987.

8 RPS 1690/4/43.

9 Raffe, Alasdair, ‘Presbyterians and episcopalians: the formation of confessional cultures in Scotland, 1660–1715’, EHR cxxv (2010), 570–98 at pp. 586–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 Acts of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, M.DC.XXXVIII.–M.DCCC.XLII, Edinburgh 1843, 456.

11 Ibid. 591–3, 607–8; Skoczylas, Anne, Mr Simson's knotty case: divinity, politics, and due process in early eighteenth-century Scotland, Montreal 2001Google Scholar.

12 Lachman, David C., The Marrow controversy, 1718–1723: an historical and theological analysis, Edinburgh 1988Google Scholar.

13 Mechie, Stewart, ‘The theological climate in early eighteenth century Scotland’, in Shaw, Duncan (ed.), Reformation and revolution: essays presented to the Very Reverend Principal Emeritus Hugh Watt, Edinburgh 1967, 258–72Google Scholar. For a more detailed discussion see Myers, Stephen G., Scottish federalism and covenantalism in transition: the theology of Ebenezer Erskine, Cambridge 2016, ch. iiGoogle Scholar.

14 Hornsby, , ‘John Glas’, parts of which were published as his ‘The case of Mr John Glas’, RSCHS vi (1936–8), 115–37Google Scholar, and John Glas: his later life and work’, RSCHS vii (1939–41), 94113Google Scholar. See also his The teaching of John Glas’, Evangelical Quarterly xii (1940), 154–71Google Scholar; Derek Boyd Murray, ‘The social and religious origins of Scottish non-Presbyterian Protestant dissent from 1730 to 1800’, unpubl. PhD diss. St Andrews 1977; McMillon, Lynn A., Restoration roots, Dallas, Tx 1983, ch. iiiGoogle Scholar; Murray, Derek B., ‘The influence of John Glas’, RSCHS xxii (1984–6), 4556Google Scholar; and Smith, John Howard, The perfect rule of the Christian religion: a history of Sandemanianism in the eighteenth century, Albany 2008, ch. iGoogle Scholar. Perhaps the least ‘denominational’ study is Mullan, David G., ‘The royal law of liberty: a reassessment of the early career of John Glass’, Journal of the United Reformed Church History Society vi (1997–2002), 233–62Google Scholar.

15 Among more recent works see especially Ferguson, William, Scotland: 1689 to the present, Edinburgh 1968, 131–2Google Scholar; Drummond, Andrew L. and Bulloch, James, The Scottish Church, 1688–1843: the age of the Moderates, Edinburgh 1973, 45–7Google Scholar; Muirhead, Andrew T. N., Reformation, dissent and diversity: the story of Scotland's Churches, 1560–1960, London 2015, esp. pp. 106–7Google Scholar; and Brown, Stewart J., ‘Protestant dissent in Scotland’, in Thompson, Andrew C. (ed.), The Oxford history of Protestant dissenting traditions, II: The long eighteenth century, c. 1689–c. 1828, Oxford 2018, 139–59 at pp. 153–4Google Scholar.

16 Raffe, Alasdair, The culture of controversy: religious arguments in Scotland, 1660–1714, Woodbridge 2012, 8292Google Scholar.

17 For evidence of significant lay interest in eighteenth-century theological debates see also Brekke, Luke, ‘Heretics in the pulpit, inquisitors in the pew: the long Reformation and the Scottish Enlightenment’, Eighteenth-Century Studies xliv/1 (Fall 2010), 7998CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Raffe, Alasdair, ‘The Hanoverian succession and the fragmentation of Scottish Protestantism’, in Aston, Nigel and Bankhurst, Ben (eds), Negotiating toleration: dissent and the Hanoverian succession, 1714–1760, Oxford 2019Google Scholar.

19 Glas, A narrative, 3.

20 Synod of Angus and Mearns, minutes, 1720–6, NRS, CH2/12/5, pp. 181–2; [James Gray], The naked truth, or two letters, [Edinburgh] 1729, 9–10; Scott, Hew, Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae: the succession of ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation, revised edn, Edinburgh 1915–50, v. 414Google Scholar; Mullan, ‘Royal law of liberty’, 245–8.

21 Synod of Angus and Mearns, minutes, NRS, CH2/12/5, pp. 181–3, 324–5; synod of Angus and Mearns, minutes, 1726–36, NRS, CH2/12/6, p. 34.

22 Glas, A narrative, 7–8.

23 Synod of Angus and Mearns, minutes, NRS, CH2/12/6, pp. 60–4, 65–6.

24 [Hog, James], A letter, wherein the scriptural grounds and warrants for the Reformation of Churches by way of Covenant, are succinctly considered and cleared, Edinburgh 1727, esp. pp. 56Google Scholar.

25 For his earliest printed statements of these views see Glas, A narrative, 17–44; A letter from a lover of Zion, and her believing children, to his intangled friend, Edinburgh 1728Google Scholar; and The testimony of the king of martyrs concerning his kingdom, Edinburgh 1729, esp. pp. 70, 190Google Scholar. Similar ideas were expressed in letters probably written by Glas and published in [Adams, James], The Independent ghost conjur'd: being a review of three letters clandestinely sent to a minister in the presbytery of Dundee, Edinburgh 1728Google Scholar.

26 See [Glas?, John], An explication of that proposition contained in Mr Glas's answers to the synod's queries, Edinburgh 1728, 42, 55–7, 61Google Scholar, and The speech of Mr John Glas before the commission of the general assembly, Edinburgh 1730, 89, 12Google Scholar.

27 T[homas] A[yton], The original constitution of the Christian Church, Edinburgh 1730Google Scholar, third pagination sequence, esp. p. 81; [Adams], Independent ghost conjur'd, esp. p. iv.

28 [Adams], Independent ghost conjur'd, 67–8, 78; [John Willison], A defence of national Churches, Edinburgh 1729, 188–214; Hoadly, Benjamin, The nature of the kingdom, or Church, of Christ, London 1717Google Scholar; Starkie, Andrew, The Church of England and the Bangorian controversy, 1716–1721, Woodbridge 2007Google Scholar.

29 Mullan, ‘Royal law of liberty’, 255–62.

30 [Willison], Defence of national Churches, 50.

31 See especially Schmidt, Leigh Eric, Holy fairs: Scotland and the making of American revivalism, 2nd edn, Grand Rapids, Mi 2001Google Scholar.

32 Glas, A narrative, 11–15, 52–62; [Maxwell, Hugh], Memorial concerning the affair of Mr John Glas, Edinburgh 1730, 13Google Scholar; Wodrow, Robert, Analecta: or, Materials for a history of remarkable providences (Maitland Club, 1842–3), iii. 323Google Scholar.

33 Glas, A narrative, 15–17, 79–80; synod of Angus and Mearns, minutes, NRS, CH2/12/6, pp. 94–5.

34 Book of membership lists, letters and hymns, UoD, Acc409, Box 6/22, pp. 152–9; cf. Hornsby, ‘John Glas’, 12–13, and McMillon, Restoration roots, 21.

35 Glas, A narrative, 166–76, 222–3; synod of Angus and Mearns, minutes, NRS, CH2/12/6, pp. 62–3.

36 For a fuller narrative of the process see Hornsby, ‘Case of Mr John Glas’, 121–33.

37 Glas, A narrative, 75–6; [Maxwell], Memorial, 13–14.

38 Synod of Angus and Mearns, minutes, NRS, CH2/12/6, pp. 66–8.

39 Presbytery of Dundee, minutes, 1725–31, NRS, CH2/103/10, pp. 127–35, 159–64; commission of the general assembly, minutes, 1726–32, NRS, CH1/3/19, pp. 147–8.

40 Presbytery of Dundee, NRS, CH2/103/10, pp. 171–4; Glas, A narrative, 212–14.

41 Synod of Angus and Mearns, minutes, NRS, CH2/12/6, pp. 87–8, 89–93, 98–100, 102–3.

42 [Glas, John], A continuation of Mr Glass's narrative, Edinburgh 1729, 1023Google Scholar; commission of the general assembly, NRS, CH1/3/19, pp. 199, 214; presbytery of Dundee, NRS, CH2/103/10, pp. 197–200, 201–24, 228–36.

43 Synod of Angus and Mearns, minutes, NRS, CH2/12/6, pp. 117, 118, 122–4.

44 [Glas], Continuation of Mr Glass's narrative, 144–5, 154–71; commission of the general assembly, NRS, CH1/3/19, pp. 367–9.

45 Membership lists of the Glasite Churches, 1760s–80s, UoD, Acc409, bundle 25/1.

46 See especially Smith, Perfect rule of the Christian religion, chs iv–v.

47 Wodrow, Analecta, iv. 71; The correspondence of the Rev. Robert Wodrow, ed. Thomas M'Crie (Wodrow Society, 1842–3), iii. 459.

48 Synod of Angus and Mearns, minutes, NRS, CH2/12/6, pp. 102, 122; [Maxwell], Memorial, 43, 57–9.

49 For discussion see Walsham, Alexandra, Charitable hatred: tolerance and intolerance in England, 1500–1700, Manchester 2006, esp. pp. 54–5Google Scholar; and Coffey, John, Persecution and toleration in Protestant England, 1558–1689, Harlow 2000, ch. iiGoogle Scholar.

50 Acts of the general assembly, 308 (quotation), 386 (where there was a minor verbal amendment).

51 Presbytery of Kirkcudbright, minutes, 1700–7, NRS, CH2/526/1a, p. 206. See also synod of Dumfries, minutes, 1691–1717, NRS, CH2/98/1, p. 469; presbytery of Dumfries, minutes, 1710–26, NRS, CH2/1284/5, p. 215.

52 Synod of Angus and Mearns, minutes, NRS, CH2/12/6, pp. 118, 123.

53 Ibid. pp. 129, 134.

54 Commission of the general assembly, NRS, CH1/3/19, pp. 367–8; Wodrow, Analecta, iv. 187–8, 262.

55 Robert Wallace, ‘A speech in behalf of Mr Glass of Tealing, designed to have been delivered before the Commission of the General Assembly March 1730 but never delivered’, EUL, La.II.62017, fos 52r–55r.

56 Commission of the general assembly, NRS, CH1/3/19, pp. 368–9.

57 Ibid. pp. 463–6, quotation at p. 466. Recognising the innovative nature of this decision, the general assembly of 1731 refused to approve the commission's action: register of the general assembly, 1730–4, NRS, CH1/1/33, pp. 200–1; Wodrow, Analecta, iv. 262.

58 A letter to the honourable ___ ruling elder, containing an argument for the reponing of the Reverend Mr Francis Archibald to his charge, [Edinburgh? 1730].

59 RPS 1695/5/186.

60 Stuart Handley, ‘Garden, George (1649–1733)’, ODNB, <>.

61 [Glas], Continuation of Mr Glass's narrative, 72–3.

62 Reasons and grounds of protestation and complaint, synod of Angus and Mearns, against the commission of the general assembly, for their conduct and sentence in the affair of Mr Francis Archibald, Edinburgh 1731, esp. pp. 4, 11Google Scholar. Archibald was probably influenced by the concept of ‘indefinite ordination’ developed by radical Presbyterians in the Restoration period: Wodrow, Robert, The history of the sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the revolution, ed. Burns, Robert, Glasgow 1828–30, ii. 346Google Scholar.

63 Commission of the general assembly, minutes, 1733–9, NRS, CH1/3/22, pp. 69–70.

64 Acts of the general assembly, 654–5, 710.

65 Register of the general assembly, 1739–42, NRS, CH1/1/40, pp. 118–19.

66 Sher, Richard B., Church and university in the Scottish Enlightenment: the Moderate literati of Edinburgh, 2nd edn, Edinburgh 2015Google Scholar, chs i–iii. See also Ahnert, Thomas, The moral culture of the Scottish Enlightenment, 1690–1805, New Haven 2014, ch. iiiGoogle Scholar; and Clark, Ian D. L., ‘From protest to reaction: the Moderate regime in the Church of Scotland, 1752–1805’, in Phillipson, N. T. and Mitchison, Rosalind (eds), Scotland in the age of improvement, Edinburgh 1970, 200–24Google Scholar.

67 McIntosh, John R., Church and theology in Enlightenment Scotland: the Popular party, 1740–1800, East Linton 1998, 1922Google Scholar.

68 Yeager, Jonathan M., Enlightened Evangelicalism: the life and thought of John Erskine, New York 2011, 5CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sher, Church and university, 36; Ahnert, Moral culture, ch. iv.

69 Landsman, Ned C., ‘Presbyterians and provincial society: the Evangelical Enlightenment in the west of Scotland, 1740–1775’, Eighteenth-Century Life xv (1991), 194209Google Scholar, and Witherspoon and the problem of provincial identity in Scottish Evangelical culture’, in Sher, Richard B. and Smitten, Jeffrey R. (eds), Scotland and America in the age of Enlightenment, Edinburgh 1990, 29–45, esp. p. 32Google Scholar; Yeager, Enlightened Evangelicalism, 32–8.

70 Fawcett, Arthur, The Cambuslang revival: the Scottish Evangelical revival of the eighteenth century, London 1971, ch. xiGoogle Scholar; Noll, Mark A., ‘Revival, Enlightenment, civic humanism, and the evolution of Calvinism in Scotland and America, 1735–1843’, in Rawlyk, George A. and Noll, Mark A. (eds), Amazing grace: Evangelicalism in Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States, Montreal 1994, 73–107 at pp. 94–5Google Scholar.

71 McIntosh, Church and theology, 32–3. See also Beebe, Keith Edward, ‘Introduction’, in The McCulloch Examinations of the Cambuslang revival (1742), ed. Beebe, Keith Edward (Scottish History Society 6th ser. v–vi, 2011), i, pp. xixxxiii, xlvii–xlviiiGoogle Scholar.

72 Early letters of Robert Wodrow, 1698–1709, ed. Sharp, L.W. (Scottish History Society 3rd ser. xxiv, 1937), 154Google Scholar.

73 The hummble thoughts, of some sober and judicious Christians, concerning the affair of the Reverend Mr John Glas, [Edinburgh] 1728, 8.

74 Glas, A narrative, 15, 45. See also Hornsby, ‘John Glas’, 15.

75 [Glas], Continuation of Mr Glass's narrative, 155, 159, 168, and A further continuation of Mr Glas's narrative, containing his remarks on a late print, entituled, a defence of national Churches, [Edinburgh? 1729], 1.

76 [Gray], Naked truth, 12.

77 [Glas], Continuation of Mr Glass's narrative, 144, 151–3.

78 The representation and petition of several ministers of the Gospel, to the general assembly, Edinburgh 1721Google Scholar; Lachman, Marrow controversy, 278–84; Myers, Scottish federalism and covenantalism in transition, 31–2.

79 [Adams], Independent ghost conjur'd, pp. iv, 54–5.

80 Hummble thoughts, 4, 12.

81 Presbytery of Dundee, NRS, CH2/103/10, pp. 134–5, 162–3.

82 Glas, A narrative, 71; [Maxwell], Memorial, 62–4; John Glas, Remarks upon the memorial of the synod of Angus against Mr Glas, Edinburgh 1730, 8–14. The original letter from Erskine to Glas is in UoD, Acc409, bundle 18.

83 Hummble thoughts, 12.

84 Wodrow, Analecta, iv. 126, 135–6; Hornsby, ‘Case of Mr John Glas’, 132.

85 See Sefton, Henry R., ‘Rev. Robert Wallace: an early moderate’, RSCHS xvi (1966–8), 122Google Scholar, and Lord Ilay and Patrick Cuming: a study in eighteenth-century ecclesiastical management’, RSCHS xix (1975–7), 203–16Google Scholar.

86 Hummble thoughts, 4–5.

87 Donaldson, G., ‘Scotland's conservative north in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th ser. xvi (1966), 6579CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The most recent discussions include Mackillop, Andrew, ‘Riots and reform: burgh authority, the languages of civic reform and the Aberdeen riot of 1785’, Urban History xliv (2017), 402–23 at p. 403CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Williams, Kelsey Jackson, ‘The network of James Garden of Aberdeen and north-eastern Scottish culture in the seventeenth century’, Northern Studies xlvii (2015), 102–30Google Scholar; and Robertson, Barry, ‘The Covenanting north of Scotland, 1638–1647’, Innes Review lxi (2010), 2451CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

88 See Szechi, Daniel, ‘Scottish Jacobitism in its international context’, in Devine, T. M. and Wormald, Jenny (eds), The Oxford handbook of modern Scottish history, Oxford 2012, 355–69Google Scholar, and Macinnes, Allan I., ‘Applied Enlightenment: its Scottish limitations in the eighteenth century’, in Dunyach, Jean-François and Thomson, Ann (eds), The Enlightenment in Scotland: national and international perspectives, Oxford 2015, 2158Google Scholar.

89 [John Willison], Queries to the Scots innovators in divine service, and particularly, to the liturgical party in the shire of Angus, [Edinburgh?] 1712.

90 Raffe, ‘Presbyterians and episcopalians’, 580–8, and ‘Scotland’, 153–5.

91 Glas, A narrative, 2–4.

92 For a narrow definition see Robertson, John, The case for the Enlightenment: Scotland and Naples, 1680–1760, Cambridge 2005, ch. iCrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a very broad alternative see Ahnert, Moral culture, 13–14.

93 Sher, Church and university; Yeager, Enlightened Evangelicalism; Ahnert, Moral culture, chs iii–iv.

94 Kidd, Colin, ‘Scotland's invisible Enlightenment: subscription and heterodoxy in the eighteenth-century Kirk’, RSCHS xxx (2000), 2859Google Scholar (Glas is mentioned at p. 48, but not his hostility to subscription), and Subscription, the Scottish Enlightenment and the Moderate interpretation of history’, this Journal lv (2004), 502–19Google Scholar.

95 [Glas], Continuation of Mr Glass's narrative, p. ix.

96 [Adams], Independent ghost conjur'd, 5.

97 Synod of Angus and Mearns, minutes, NRS, CH2/12/6, p. 95.

98 Robert Wallace, ‘A letter to a reverend clergyman in Scotland concerning submission to the Church’, c. 1730, EUL, La.II.62017, especially fo. 26r. Wallace had reached these views independently long before Glas's case: ‘A little treatise against imposing creeds or confessions of faith on ministers or private Christians as a necessary term of laick or ministeriall communion. Written before the year 1720’, EUL, La.II.62018.

99 [Gray], Naked truth, 39.

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