Religion in James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and J.G. Lockhart’s Adam Blair
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2). Given the highly charged religious environment of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Scotland, the above passage must have been discussed many times in Christian circles then. Some of the Reformed faithful, perhaps, took the first part too seriously, to the expense of any normal sense of morality, while others might have forgotten their freedom from condemnation and fallen into despair. Either way, both views pervert the orthodox Calvinistic view of guilt laid out in the teachings of the doctrine’s namesake and the standard confessions of the church at the time.
While they may not make very good theology, these dogmas at least provided material for two nineteenth-century character studies, James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and J.G. Lockhart’s Adam Blair. Written when much (but not all) of post-Enlightenment Scotland had taken an anti-clerical, anti-religious stance, these novels explore the faith of the previous generation and how fundamentalist Presbyterianism may have gone horribly wrong. The protagonists of each book react in completely opposite ways to their sinful acts; Lockhart’s eponymous character has a nearly legalistic view of his own sin, while Hogg’s Robert Wringhim follows a more antinomian path. Oddly enough, it is the former who ends up redeemed and the other damned, but their respective journeys toward those ends follow much of the same path.
Robert Wringhim, Hogg’s central character, grows up in a rather dysfunctional family, to say the least; he lives with his mother and her minister, and the novel implies that he is actually the illegitimate son of the latter. Taught from childhood that the elect, the people God had chosen for salvation, were incapable of doing any wrong and could never lose their special status because of any actions they took. The senior Robert Wringhim, his father figure, is fully convinced of this himself, and uses it to excuse both his son’s sin and his own. As a result, even after his supposed salvation, Wringhim believes that his justification before God gives him license to do what he pleases without any spiritual consequences. He accepts this unquestioningly, but the role of the minister in the Church of Scotland had at the time of the book’s events almost requires him to do so: "In the eighteenth century Scottish Presbyterian community the minister was not just a man--he was the defender of public morals, the archetypal good man, the figure for emulation" (Richardson 54). Add to this that his particular minister also acts as his father figure, and it is little surprise that Robert believes in such a radical teaching.
It is that same near-idolization of...