Charles Buck's Theological Dictionary

209 Sandemanians


A sect that originated in Scotland about the year 1728; where it is, at this time, distinguished by the name of Glassites, after its founder, Mr. John Glass, who was a minister of the established church in that kingdom; but being charged with a design of subverting the national covenant, and sapping the foundation of all national establishments, by maintaining that the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, was expelled from the synod by the church of Scotland. His sentiments are fully explained in a tract, published at that time, entitled, “The Testimony of the King of Martyrs,” and preserved in the first volume of his works. In consequence of Mr. Glass’s expulsion, his adherents formed themselves into churches, conformable, in their institution and discipline, to what they apprehended to be the plan of the first churches recorded in the New Testament. Soon after the year 1755, Mr. Robert Sandeman, an elder in one of these churches in Scotland, published a series of letters addressed to Mr. Hervey, occasioned by his Theron and Aspasio, in which he endeavours to show that his notion of faith is contradictory to the Scripture account of it, and could only serve to lead men, professedly holding the doctrines called Calvinistic, to establish their own righteousness upon their frames, feelings, and acts of faith. In these letters Mr. Sandeman attempts to prove that justifying faith is no more than a simple belief of the truth, or the divine testimony passively received by the understanding; and that this divine testimony carries in itself sufficient ground of hope to every one who believes it, without any thing wrought in us, or done by us, to give it a particular direction to ourselves. 

Some of the popular preachers, as they were called, had taught that it was of the essence of faith to believe that Christ is ours; but Mr. Sandeman contended, that that which is believed in true faith is the truth, and what would have been the truth though we had never believed it. They dealt largely in calls and invitations to repent and believe in Christ, in order to forgiveness; but he rejects the whole of them, maintaining that the Gospel contained no offer but that of evidence, and that it was merely a record or testimony to be credited. They had taught that though acceptance with God, which included the forgiveness of sins, was merely on account of the imputed righteousness of Christ, yet that none was accepted of God, nor forgiven, till he repented of his sin, and received Christ as the only Saviour; but he insists that there is acceptance with God through Christ for sinners, while such, or before “any act, exercise, or exertion of their minds whatsoever:” consequently before repentance; and that “a passive belief of this quiets the guilty conscience, begets hope, and so lays the foundation for love.” It is by this passive belief of the truth that we, according to Mr. Sandeman are justified, and that boasting is excluded. If any act, exercise, or exertion of the mind, were necessary to our being accepted of God, he conceives there would be whereof to glory; and justification by faith could not be opposed, as it is in Rom. 4:4, 6, to justification by works. 

The authors to whom Mr. Sandeman refers, under the title of “popular preachers,” are Flavel, Boston, Guthrie, the Erskines, &c. whom he has treated with acrimony and contempt. “I would be far,” says he, “from refusing even to the popular preachers themselves what they so much grudge to others.–the benefit of the one instance of a hardened sinner finding mercy at last; for I know of no sinners more hardened, none greater destroyers of mankind, than they.” There have not been wanting writers, however, who have vindicated these ministers from his invectives, and have endeavoured to show that Mr. Sandeman’s notion of faith, by excluding all exercise or concurrence of the will with the Gospel way of salvation, confounds the faith of devils with that of Christians, and so is calculated to deceive the souls of men. It has also been observed, that though Mr. Sandeman admits of the acts of faith and love as fruits of believing the truth, yet, “all his godliness consisting (as he acknowledges to Mr. Pike) in love to that which first relieved him,” it amounts to nothing but self-love. And as self-love is a stranger to all those strong affections expressed in the 119th Psalm towards the law of God, he cannot admit of them as the language of a good man, but applies the whole psalm to Christ, though the person speaking acknowledges, that “before he was afflicted, he went astray.” Others have thought, that from the same principle it were easy to account for the bitterness, pride, and contempt, which distinguish the system; for self-love, say they, is consistent with the greatest aversion to all beings, divine or human, excepting so far as they become subservient to us. 

The chief opinion and practices in which this sect differs from other Christians, are, their weekly administration of the Lord’s supper; their love-feasts, of which every member is not only allowed but required to partake, and which consist of their dining together at each other’s houses in the interval between the morning and afternoon service. Their kiss of charity used on this occasion at the admission of a new member, and at other times when they deem it necessary and proper; their weekly collection before the Lord’s supper, for the support of the poor, and defraying other expenses; mutual exhortation; abstinence from blood and things strangled; washing each other’s feet, when, as a deed of mercy, it might be an expression of love, the precept concerning which, as well as other precepts, they understand literally: community of goods, so far as that every one is to consider all that he has in his possession and power, liable to the calls of the poor and the church; and the unlawfulness of laying up treasures upon earth, by setting them apart for any distant, future, and uncertain use. They allow of public and private diversions, so far as they are unconnected with circumstances really sinful; but apprehending a lot to be sacred, disapprove of lotteries, playing at cards, dice, &c. 

They maintain a plurality of elders, pastors, or bishops, in each church; and the necessity of the presence of two elders in every act of discipline, and at the administration of the Lord’s supper.In the choice of these elders, want of learning and engagement in trade are no sufficient objection, if qualified according to the instructions given to Timothy and Titus; but second marriages disqualify for the office; and they are ordained by prayer and fasting, imposition of hands, and giving the right hand of fellowship. 

In their discipline they are strict and severe, and think themselves obliged to separate from the communion and worship of all such religious societies as appear to them not to profess the simple truth for their only ground of hope, and who do not walk in obedience to it. We shall only add, that in every transaction they esteem unanimity to be absolutely necessary.

Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.

Charles Buck on the Biblical Covenants (Complete)
Charles Buck's Theological Dictionary