CAIRNS, JOHN: United Presbyterian Church, Scotland b. at Ayton Hill (7 m. n.w. of Berwick-on-Tweed) Aug. 23, 1818; d. in Edinburgh Mar. 12, 1892. After being the wonder of his first school, he became the wonder of the University of Edinburgh, where he studied arts (1834-40), and of Secession Hall, where he studied theology (1840-43). In 1843-44 he studied and traveled on the Continent and received impressions and made acquaintances, especially in Germany, which affected his life. From 1845 till 1876 he was minister of the Golden Square United Presbyterian Church, Berwick-on-Tweed. In frame he was massive, and he had apparently great powers of endurance, but he toiled too much, responded to too many calls in every direction; and on all sorts of errands, and so in 1855 broke down and after that was frequently laid aside. He early became one of the leaders of his denomination, and developed into one of the foremost Scotchmen. He was from 1867 to 1876 professor of apologetics in the theological hall of his denomination in Edinburgh; in 1872 moderator of its general assembly. In 1876 he gave up his pastoral charge, and moving to Edinburgh received the joint professorship (with the principal) of systematic theology and apologetics–the terms of which had been lengthened from seven weeks to five months. In 1879 he succeeded to the principalship. In 1880 he visited America and was a prominent character in the second council of the Alliance of the Reformed Churches held in Philadelphia. He died of heart disease after a brief illness. He never married.
His best work was done upon the platform and in the pulpit. The great respect felt for him there and as a man of affairs and counsel withheld criticism of him as an educator, for as such he was less successful. He had considerable learning and remarkable gifts, especially in the way of language, and he acquired foreign languages readily, even such tongues as Assyrian and Arabic when in middle life. He was sprung from the common people, understood how to address them, and was reverenced by them. His nature was genial, free from affectation and hauteur, and he was untiring in the service of others. He made a deep impression on his own generation by his broad-mindedness, moral courage, and fervent eloquence.
The topics upon which he spoke with convincing power, springing from deep conviction, were the freedom of the Church from the State; home and foreign missions; temperance, and (after, 1874) in advocacy of total abstinence; modification of the Confession of Faith, by a declaratory statement (adopted 1879); union of the United Presbyterian, the Free Church, and the Church of Scotland (realized as far as the first two are concerned in 1900); and the disestablishment of the Church of Scotland.
His literary work was small in amount. He published aside from pamphlets a memoir of Rev. John Brown, of the United Presbyterian Church, father of the author of Rab and his Friends (Edinburgh, 1860); Unbelief in the Eighteenth Century, Cunningham lectures for 1881; and after his death came a volume of his sermons, Christ the Morning Star, and Other Sermons (London, 1892).
BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. R. Macewen Life and Letters of John Cairns, London, 1898; Principal Cairns, in the Famous Scots Series, Edinburgh, 1903.
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