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John Cairns


1818 - 1892

Clergyman and philosopher. Born at Ayton Hill in the Scottish Borders, Cairns was the son of a shepherd. He rose beyond a modest education to enter the University of Edinburgh and graduated in classics, philosophy and mathematics in 1841, having been recognised as one of the best students of his time. He spent a year studying in Berlin and returned to be ordained as a Minister, preaching in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Cairns belonged to the philosophical school of Sir William Hamilton (1788 - 1856) and was friendly with James Ferrier (1808-64), writing An Examination of Ferrier's Knowing and Being, and the Scottish Philosophy in 1856. His other publications included a Memoir of John Brown, DD (1860); Romanism and Rationalism (1863); Outlines of Apologetical Theology (1867); The Doctrine of the Presbyterian Church (1876); Unbelief in the 18th Century (1881); and the Doctrinal Principles of the United Presbyterian Church (1888). He learned several languages to allow him to absorb their literature.

He was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Edinburgh in 1858, but he declined the position of Principal there the following year. In 1872 he was elected Moderator of the United Presbyterian Synod and was appointed Principal of the United Presbyterian Theological College in 1879.

Cairns died in Edinburgh.


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