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The Rising Burgh: 1560 to 1770s

Culture and Leisure

Prayer and Fasting

By Michael Moss

Alexander Henderson After the Reformation the old Catholic religion died hard, largely because the bulk of the population remained apathetic and the Reformers had difficulty in appointing sympathetic parish ministers. Prayer and personal reflection was fundamental to the new doctrine to replace the rites and rituals that had gone before. From the 1650s informal prayer groups were established throughout Scotland, some of which flourished into the 18th century. There was also a growing evangelical party within the Church of Scotland, which was committed to preaching the word of God to the whole population. Communion was infrequent and preceded by a week of fasting and preaching. Each communicant was supposed to be examined by the minister to determine the extent of their preparation and knowledge of the Christian faith. Only those considered worthy were admitted to the Communion table.

Francis Hutcheson From the early 18th century there was a reaction against the strict Calvinism of the Reformers, which was kept alive by the evangelicals. Symptomatic of this reaction were charges of heresy made against John Simson, professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow, of which he was largely acquitted. Francis Hutcheson, professor of Moral Philosophy, went further by questioning the innate sinfulness of the human condition which was what Calvinist doctrine held. These new ideas placed less emphasis on prayer and fasting and more on the need for piety, charity and sober and godly living.

Three Churches Unable to accommodate some of these radical approaches to doctrine, the Church of Scotland began to lose mostly more liberal congregations in a series of secessions beginning in the 1730s. These schisms were often theologically complicated. Nevertheless the practice of prayer and fasting, particularly in preparation for communion persisted into the 19th century and was in some instances revived by the evangelicals.

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