This article on Sandemanianism, also discusses the life and teachings of John Glas and Robert Sandeman.

Source: The Monthly Record, 1991. 7 pages.

The Dangers of Sandemanianism

The error of Sandemanianism came into the churches in the period after 1720. It is one of those errors which took its rise in a time when there were many problems and much deadness coming into the church in Scotland.

Some errors come into the church after a time of bless­ing and of revival. The Pentecostal Movement might be put into this class. But the error of San­demanianism took its rise in the Scottish church at a time when there were difficulties and theological problems emerging.

It's History🔗

A time of deadness and of declension is always danger­ous and that for various rea­sons. In a time when the Gospel seems to lose its power there is always a temptation for men to try to change the old methods and the old outlook. There is no blessing. Therefore we must get rid of the traditions which were held by the fore­fathers. We must throw overboard the old lumber. When men develop a state of mind like this they, of course, want to seek for fresh light. They are inspired with the thought of going right back to primitive Christianity as distinct from those traditions and ruts which our forefathers are supposed to have made for themselves. This is exactly the spirit which animated the first founders of the San­demanian movement in Scotland and in Britain fol­lowing 1720.

Three men are of particu­lar importance to the rise of the Sandemanian Movement in the 18th century. They are John Glas, Robert Sandeman and Archibald Mac­lean.

Sandemanianism is referred to in Scotland as the Glasite Movement but in England and Wales, it is normally referred to as Sandemanianism. A little must be said of these three men.

John Glas🔗

Sandemanianism began through the teaching of John Glas. He was born in Auchtermuchty in 1695 and be­came a minister of the Church of Scotland, being ordained in 1719. His parish was called Tealing in the Presbytery of Dundee.

He was a gifted and able man and we must never for­get that errors and dangers often come into the Church through its most gifted and able men. He was a great preacher and became very popular.

The difficulty which arose was this. He began to grow uneasy about the Church of Scotland's whole position and he started to ask certain questions. Why should we impose on the consciences of Christian people a lumber of tradition which the Church has developed? Why, for in­stance, should we burden men with the question of the Solemn League and Covenant?

Indeed, he came to ask the question: was it right to im­pose the Westminster Con­fession of Faith and the Catechisms on Christian ministers and officebearers? Surely God's Word is enough. He then went a step further and came to feel that there ought to be an entire separation between Church and State. In other words, he is one of the earliest men in Scotland to believe in Voluntaryism or the complete separation of Church and State.

We must be clear how­ever, that Glas had no inten­tion of altering the accepted theology of the Scottish Church. He himself, in­terestingly enough, was a profound student of Calvin and, although he came to differ in many respects from Calvin, he did so rather unconsciously than deliberately and it is this which is one of the sad lessons which we are to learn from his life. He veered away from the Gos­pel while all the time believ­ing that he was only recovering the Gospel and becoming more biblical.

The case came before the ecclesiastical courts of the Church of Scotland at the time and he was eventually deposed from the ministry of the Church and founded an Independent Church of his own. He was, in fact, the father of Scottish Independency.

Robert Sandeman🔗

Robert Sandeman was the son-in-law of Glas. He came across Glas in the city of Perth and joined the church when he was only 20 years of age. He endorsed the views of Glas entirely and, as usually happens in an ardent disciple, he carried Glas' views farther than Glas him­self had done. He was less able than his father-in-law but made up for the deficiency by being more aggres­sive, and more confident that he was right. He has been well described as a born controversialist and he had the gift of making himself clear. He came into promi­nence like this.

James Hervey, a noted theologian of the 18th cen­tury had written a famous book entitled Theron and Aspasio. That appeared in 1755. It was an orthodox book dealing with experi­mental Calvinism and han­dling the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ.

However, Robert Sandeman disliked it and set himself to refute it. The reason was this. He said that James Hervey's book makes faith a work of man which earns salvation and he argued that the Scriptures teach otherwise. Sandeman was wrong in his assessment of Hervey's book, but what is of importance to us is to note that the Sandemanian view of faith was sig­nificantly different from the Westminster Confession's view of Faith.

The book which San­deman wrote received the title Letters of Theron and Aspasio and this book be­came infamous overnight and brought the Christian world to see how different was the Sandemanian view of faith from that generally received at the time. We shall return to the subject a little later.

Archibald Maclean🔗

The third member of the trio was Archibald Maclean. He came a little later and took up the cudgels on be­half of the whole school of thought.

He was a man of great ability with theological gifts but came to feel that the dis­cipline in Glas' church in Edinburgh was too strict and rigorous and so he left to form a church of his own in Edinburgh in 1765.

Eventually, he became a Baptist and may be called the father of Baptists in Scotland. In Wales when the movement reached there, they were known as the Little Baptists or Scotch Baptists.

It's Teachings🔗

We come now to consider some of the significant teachings of Glas, Sandeman and Maclean.

As we have seen the first man of the three to develop new views was Glas. He came to think that Christ's kingdom was entirely spiri­tual and absolutely not of this world. He wrote a book entitled The Testimony of the King of Martyrs. Here he asserts that Christ's Church is spiritual and also that it is the Universal Church. There are only two kinds of church, he maintained, in the New Testament. They are the Universal Church and the local Church. It is clear, then, that he did not believe in Presbyterianism. He also rejected, as we have seen, the entire view of the day that there should be a connection between Church and State.

In an endeavour to get back to simple New Testa­ment religion, Glas thought that we must bring back lost practices which the early Christians had used. These were: weekly Communion, foot washing, the love feast, the holy kiss and control over how church members use their money. The Church, he says, must have strict conditions of member­ ship. All these views were held in common by San­demanians.

However, the most significant change was in the theory which they taught concerning the nature of saving faith.

What Faith Is🔗

There is an element in­volving the will, an element involving the mind or intel­lect and an emotional ele­ment which rests upon Christ. It is clear that the Westminster divines held that there is an emotional as­pect to true faith. This is made clear by the term "em­brace" which they use. The sinner is said to "embrace Christ" as he is offered in the Gospel. You do not, of course, embrace a person unless there is devotion in your heart. These three ele­ments according to the Westminster definition of faith are present whenever faith is true and saving faith.

But this view of faith was rejected by the San­demanians. Their view was that there is only one element present and that is the intellect or the mind. The fruit, therefore, of San­demanian teaching on the subject of faith was to pro­duce a cold orthodoxy.

Finding Assurance🔗

This also came out in their attitude to Christian assurance. The Westminster Con­fession of Faith refers to two main forms of assurance. A Christian may attain to assurance through "the practical syllogism", by which it meant a process of reasoning like this. A Chris­tian may say to himself: "I know I have faith because I see the fruits of the Spirit in my life". Or again: "I know I have faith because I see the promises of Scripture and I accept them for what they are".

There is a form of assur­ance which men have at that level, but the Westminster divines regarded that as a low form of assurance. They speak also of an "infallible assurance". By that they mean the rich experience of the love of God shed upon the heart of the believer. This is that direct witness of God's Spirit with our spirit which is a very heaven on earth.

But the Sandemanians did not like this second type of assurance. They went even further and disliked the assurance which the Chris­tian has when he examines his own heart for marks of grace. The Sandemanian view was that men should not be encouraged to search themselves for evidences of grace for that is too subjec­tive and is not necessary.

As to the emotional enjoy­ment of God which is re­flected in many New Testament expressions of assurance, they said that it was not appropriate for Christians today to use such language. They admitted that the Apostles might have such high experiences of the Spirit of God giving them a direct assurance of salvation. But they did not believe that men were warranted to take and apply these phrases to themselves today.

"Simple" Faith🔗

So they taught that faith is simply an act of the mind by which a man assents to what God has said. Faith, to them, was simply a receiving of the testimony of the Apostles.

In addition, they disliked many of the great orthodox writers of that time and of the previous generation. They made much of Calvin but did not like the Puritans. They did not, of course, understand Calvin as they should have done but that was the way they used to think. For instance, they dis­liked Thomas Boston the outstanding Scottish writer of the early 18th century. They also disliked John Flavel, Philip Doddridge, Isaac Watts and the Erskine brothers. They would refer to such men as the "popular preachers". And they meant that in a derogatory sense.

To summarise their view of faith we must say that the Sandemanians defined it as merely a "simple faith", a "persuasion" simply based upon evidence. It is a "bare" belief. A person, they said, becomes a Chris­tian when they see that Christ has come, has died, has risen and has ascended and then puts their amen to these statements of the Scriptures. That, they argued, was what justified men and brought peace with God.

They used to say that in the first act of faith man is purely passive. There is no­thing active in the mind. The first saving act of faith, they argued, has no active ele­ment in it but is purely receptive. It is understandable therefore that they regarded it as a bad and an unhealthy thing for a man to look inwardly into his heart for signs of being converted.

What are we to think of their view of faith and of their religion generally?

When evaluating any form of religion we must not simply look at what men say but at what they do not say and at what they actually practise. It is usually easier to understand the tendency and the trend of a movement in this way.

If we apply this test to the Sandemanians we must note in passing certain things which were not held highly by them. They were poor at keeping the Sabbath, for instance. They did not like family worship and would say that there is no such thing in the Scriptures. They taught that unbelievers ought not to be allowed to be present in an act of pub­lic worship. Their theory was that the presence of an un­believer might be con­taminating in the sight of God.

So you see at once before we look in detail at San­demanianism's main fea­tures that there is a new type of religion emerging already.

It's Characteristics🔗

We come now to mention the leading characteristics of Sandemanianism.

1. It was Censorious.🔗

As we have seen they were very critical of orthodox wri­ters and they went very far in their criticism. Robert Sandeman used to say about Flavel, Boston, Guthrie and the Erskines that their writ­ings were a "devout path to hell". He called them Phari­sees and he did that with good intention. He did not understand the Puritan out­look and he was therefore dismissive of it.

There are, of course, many today who are critical of the experimental Calvin­ism of our own Church in a similar way. Even some who claim to be Calvinists can be extremely censorious in their attitude to orthodox churches like our own.

2. They were Strongly Separatist.🔗

Sandemanians wanted all the churches or societies con­nected with them to be disconnected from any other group. Theirs were the only "real" churches. All other churches they regarded as Babylon. That is the term which they used.

This sectarian spirit, of course, appears again and again in the history of chur­ches and can be found today in highly independent and strongly militant churches professing orthodoxy. The attitude is that if you join them you must be dis­sociated from all other chur­ches and even if necessary turn against those were your former friends and brethren in the faith.

3. The Sandemanian Movement was Marked by Authoritarianism.🔗

They used excommunica­tion and they used it with a heavy hand. As we have seen, they would tell church members in their circles how they ought to use their money and they would take to do with these personal as­pects of the life of a Christian.

We have similar things in the world today. It goes by the name of the "Heavy Shepherding Movement" and can be seen in some Restoration churches. The church leaders tell you whom you should marry or how many children you should have; where to go on holiday; which job to take and if you are allowed to move away from home to some other job. We refer to that as heavy shepherding. It is a form of lording it over God's heritage but it was also found in the San­demanian movement up to a point.

4. Then a Fourth Feature of the Sandemanians is that they were Anti-clerical.🔗

They did not believe in a paid ministry. They had a strong emphasis on the absolute equality of the elder and the minister. The preaching elder and the ruling elder, they said, is one and the same office. If you do not pay money to a ruling elder then, they argued, you should not pay it to the preaching elder, and in this way they were clearly anti-clerical.

5. They Bred a Small-church Mentality.🔗

Many of the Reformed churches in Scotland in their day had vast congregations. The same was true in Wales during the same 18th cen­tury. There were great revi­vals. It was the beginning of the wonderful evangelical movement in Wales. So there were huge churches in Scotland and in Wales at that time.

But the Sandemanians tended to frown on large churches. The important thing, they said, is not to be evangelising nor to be think­ing of missionary work but rather to make "pure chur­ches". The church was to be made perfect in the sight of God and so they got their supply of new members by proselytising. Their mem­bers tended not to come straight out of the world but rather out of other churches.

There are, of course, ob­vious similarities with some churches and movements which we see in the world today.

6. Sandemanianism Produced an Intellectual Sort of Calvinism.🔗

This is of particular con­cern to us — their intellec­tual Calvinism had no interest in Christian experience.

The great Welsh preacher, Christmas Evans, undoubt­edly one of the outstanding Baptist preachers of our country, was greatly in­fluenced for a period of some years by the Sandemanian movement. When he eventually left the move­ment, he came to see that it had done great spiritual harm. It affected his preach­ing during the time in which he had embraced its type of religion but he eventually es­caped from it and became his former self.

When he did so he came to regard Sandemanianism as a religious poison. It had robbed him for years of his zeal for God, of his delight in God and of spiritual sweetness in prayer and preaching. He put it like this: "I have been robbed to a great degree of the spirit of prayer, the spirit of preaching".

So Sandemanianism af­fected all who came under its blighting influence. It held men in an icy grip like the North Pole. The famous William Williams of Pan­tycelyn, another outstanding Welsh evangelical minister, said of Sandemanianism: "it chilled one's feelings".

7. Sandemanianism Pro­duced a Cold Form of Christian Character.🔗

This was inevitable. Their Calvinism was correct, crys­talline, cold and icy. Emo­tion was discouraged and frowned on.

Let us then see where the Sandemanians went wrong.

It's Errors🔗

As we have seen, they were not Arminians nor Amyraldians but professing Calvinists. Some of their leaders had been students of Calvin and admired greatly the English theological giant, John Owen. But they did not understand Calvin or Owen in some of their central em­phases. They had misread these outstanding men. So we must now see how it was they went wrong.

1. Misunderstanding the Bible🔗

For one thing, the San­demanians went wrong be­cause they misunderstood certain texts in the Bible.

One of their favourite texts was Romans 4:5: "But to him that worketh not but be­lieveth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness". They understood this text to mean that God justifies an ungodly man in the sense that when a man first believes in Christ he is still ungodly.

In other words, they understood this text in the sense that the first act of faith is the act of a man who hates God. God, they said, justifies a man even though he is as yet ungodly and then, as a consequence, the fruits of faith follow, one of which is love towards God.

It is no wonder that the critics of the Sandemanians used to say that their view of faith was the faith of devils. The criticism is justified be­cause it is preposterous to suggest that God justifies any person through a faith that is not accompanied by love.

Another of their favourite texts was 1 John 5:1: "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God". They again mis­understood this verse. They argued from this text that the first thing the sinner does is to exercise faith in Christ and that, as a consequence of this act of faith, God blesses him with the privilege of being born into His king­dom. But the great error here is to reverse faith and the new birth as we shall see a little later.

2. Faith and Moral Discipline🔗

At the root of Robert San­deman's theory of faith is the question: can a man who is not rightly disposed to­wards God believe in him? Can a man exercise an act of saving faith in God when his whole moral character is at enmity with God? They said: yes, he can.

But that is again a mis­reading of the New Testa­ment. The change must first come in a sinner's moral dis­position before he can exer­cise his first act of justifying faith.

3. Faith and Repentance🔗

The Sandemanian view was that repentance must follow faith. Faith, they said, comes first and repent­ance must follow.

It was at this point that the great English theologian, Andrew Fuller, was so help­ful in his criticism of San­demanianism. He said: "In that case, the Sandemanians talk about a believer who is impenitent". The sinner who believes in Christ, according to Sandemanianism, is impenitent when he first believes. He is a man who has faith in God but at this stage not yet any love for God. But again, this is im­possible. Faith and repent­ance always go together and cannot be separated.

4. Faith and Regeneration🔗

As we have noticed, the Sandemanians reversed faith and the new birth. They argued that the new birth occurs after a sinner has believed in Christ.

Some notable American evangelists have brought the same theory across to this country, but the Scriptures teach that the new birth must come first. Andrew Fuller explained this point clearly in reference to John 3:6: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh". Fuller asked the question: how can a man who is "flesh" put his trust in Christ which is an act of a spiritual person? In that way Andrew Fuller showed the absurdity of the San­demanian theory that faith comes before the new birth. There are other texts which he used to the same purpose such as Romans 8:7 and 1 Corinthians 2:14. San­demanians had a method of evangelism all their own. If a man came to them wanting help or to be taught how to find Christ, the San­demanian preacher would not tell him to repent or ex­hort him to believe or press any spiritual duties upon him at all. He would simply inform him that Christ had died and then he would leave it at that without any ex­hortation because the Sandemanian preacher believed that the information should be sufficient for the enquiring sinner to come to faith. This was the mode of his evangelism.

5. Faith and Emotion🔗

The Sandemanian defini­tion of faith is defective because it leaves out any evidence of the will or the emotions as we have seen. It talked simply of a "naked faith". But the faith which justifies the sinner is not a mere passive act of the soul.

It is not a mere "naked" faith as we see from such texts as 2 Thessalonians 2:10 where Paul speaks of "re­ceiving the love of the truth". Jonathan Edwards represents all orthodox wri­ters when he says, in his treatise on Religious Affections, "that all true religion really consists in holy feelings, holy affections, love to God and love to man".

It is no wonder that the Sandemanian churches ended up with censorious attitudes and a sectarian mentality because, when true Christian love goes, every­thing goes.


At the heart of this subject is something far more rele­vant than would appear at first sight. This is not just a bypath of church history but an ever-present tendency in Calvinistic and other Chris­tian circles.

It is always man's tempta­tion to reduce the Gospel to the "bare" believing of Gos­pel facts. True apostolic Christianity goes far beyond mental assent to Gospel truth. It involves a delight in God himself for His own sake. It involves union and communion with Christ in glory. It involves a personal experience of the Holy Ghost moving over our hearts with a variety of emo­tions such as delight, ecstasy and comfort. All these things are lost through the chilling influences of Sandemanianism which is a cari­cature of the religion of the Bible.

It is important that we should realise how glorious was the recovery of Christ­mas Evans from the chill winds of Sandemanianism. After 15 years of bondage to the cold religion which San­demanian teaching brought to him, he was wonderfully, finally and forever delivered from this error. He tells us in his own journal about the experience.

There will be little or no change in the churches of our land until our preachers and people have some richer and fuller experience of God than is commonly the case today. We do not argue for emotionalism but we do plead for the need of a deeper experimental religion than is found commonly today. Where are our reli­gious feelings? Where are the tears? Where are the sighs? Where is there to be seen evidence of strong emo­tion not indeed artificially produced by the will of man but emotions which are the result of a profound appre­ciation of God, his glory, his Gospel and the whole coun­sel of his Word?

Let us stir ourselves up everywhere with a fresh appetite for the knowledge of God himself and let us guard against the dangers of Sandemanianism which are never far from us all.

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