Leighton, Robert

Leighton, Robert a Scottish prelate, one of the most distinguished preachers and theologians of the 17th century, was born in Edinburgh, or, as others think, in Londlon, in the year 1611. He was educated at the university of the former city, and there took his degree of M.A. in 1631, when he went to the Continent to study, especially in France. Here he resided with some relatives at Douay, and formed the acquaintance of several Rom'an Catholic students, whose Christian virtues made him a charitable Christian towards all who bore the name of his Master. "Gentle, tender, and pious from his earliest years, he shrunk from all violence and intolerance; but his intercourse with men whose opinions were so different from his own convinced his reason of the folly and sinfulness of 'thinking too rigidly of doctrine.'" He returned to Scotland in 1641, and was immediately appointed to the parish of Newbattle, near Edinburgh; but as Leighton identified himself with the cause of Charles I when the latter was confined, by the commissioners of the Parliament, in Holmby House, he brought upon his head the displeasure of the Presbyterians, and, according to bishop Burnet, "He soon came to dislike their Covenant, particularly their imposing it, and their fury against all who differed from them. He found they were not capable of large thoughts; theirs were narrow as their tempers were sour; so he grew weary of mixing with them," and became an Episcopalian. For this change, however, there were serious obstacles in Leighton's case, and it has therefore been a matter of general disapprobation. Certainly the facility with which he fraternized with the party that had inflicted such horrid cruelties on his excellent father, Dr. Alexander Leighton, in 1630, for merely publishing a book in favor of Presbyterianism, cannot be altogether approved (comp. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 4:463 sq.). In 1652 he resigned his charge, and in the following year was elected principal of the University of Edinburgh, a dignity which he retained for ten years. Earnest, spiritual, and utterly free from all selfish ambition, he labored without ceasing for the welfare of the students. He delivered lectures especially to the students of theology, and occasionally supplied the place of divinity professor. His theological lectures are known to the learned world, and have been translated into English. For pure Latin, sublime thought, and warm diction, they have never been surpassed, and seldom equaled. In that office Dr. Leighton was truly the ornament and delight of the university, and a blessing to studious youth. After the restoration of Charles II and the re-establishment of the episcopacy in Scotland, Leighton, after much reluctance, accepted the bishopric of Dunblane, a small and poor diocese, and was consecrated at Westminster Dec. 15, 1661. Unfortunately for his peace, the men with whom he was now allied were even more intolerant and unscrupulous than the Presbyterians. The despotic measures of Sharpe and Lauderdale sickened him. Twice he proceeded to London (in 1665 and 1669) to implore the king to adopt a milder course — on the former of these occasions declaring "that he could not concur in the planting of the Christian religion in such a manner, much less as a form of government." Nothing was really done, though much was promised, and Leighton had to endure the misery of seeing an ecclesiastical system which he believed to be intrinsically the best, perverted to the worst of purposes, and himself the accomplice of the worst of men. In 1670, on the resignation of Dr. Alexander Burnet, he was made, quite against his personal wishes, archbishop of Glasgow, and he finally accepted this great distinction only on the condition that he should be assisted in his attempts to carry out a liberal measure for "the comprehension of the Presbyterians." But finding, after a time, that his efforts to unite the different parties were all in vain, and that he could not stay the high-handed tyranny of his colleagues, he finally determined to resign the ecclesiastical dignity (in 1673). After a short residence in Edinburgh, he went to live with his sister at Broadhurst, in Sussex, where he spent the rest of his days in a retired manner, devoted chiefly to works of religion. He died at London June 25,1684. Leighton published nothing du.ring his lifetime. His great work is his Practical Commentary upon the First General Epistle of St. Peter; not a learned exposition by any means, for the writer hardly notices questions of philology at all, but perhaps no more remarkable instance is extant of the power which sympathy with the writer gives in enabling an expositor to bring out and elucidate his meaning. Another able work of his is Praelectiones Theologiae, of which an edition was published a few years ago by the late professor Scholefield of Cambridge; also some sermons and charges. There is an edition of his work in 4 vols. 8vo, Lond. 1819; but the best edition is that of Pearson (Lond. 1828; N. Y. 1859, 8vo). Another good edition was published in 1871, in 6 vols. 8vo. All of Leighton's writings have received the highest commesndations because of the lofty and evangelical spirit that pervades them. They present the truths of Christianity in the spirit of Plato, and it was this that recommended them so much to Coleridge, whose Aids to Reflection are simply commentaries on the teachings of archbishop Leighton. "Few uninspired writings," says Dr. Dodderidge, "are better adapted to mend the world: they continually overflow with love to God and man." See Hetherington, Ch. of Scotland, 2:22 sq., 70 sq.; Burnet's History of his Own Times; Burnet's Pastoral Care; Doddridge's Preface to Leighton's Words; The Remains of Archbishop Leighton, by Jerment (1808); his Select Works, by Cheever (Boston, 1832); Pearson, Life of Robert Leighton (1832); Kitto, Cycl. Libl. Lifer. vol. 2, s.v.; Chambers, Cyclop. vol. 6, s.v.; Chambers, Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen, s.v.; Allibone, Dict. Brit. And Amer. Authors, vol. 2, s.v.

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