Between 1741 and 1768 George Whitefield made 14 preaching tours through Scotland. Originally he built close links with Ralph Erskine and his brother Ebenezer, and others of the separatist Secessionist Church. However, he was able to remain in a long and positive relationship with the leaders of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. He shared in the Cambuslang Revival and was able to attract large crowds especially at open-air meetings. He contributed to the revival of Presbyterianism in Scotland.

Wesleyan Methodism was probably first brought to Scotland by government troops sent after the 1745 rebellion. John Wesley paid the first of 22 visits in 1751 at the invitation of Bartholomew Gallatin, commander of dragoons at Musselburgh. His second visit was to Glasgow in 1753, at the invitation of John Gillies, minister of the College Kirk. In the next 20 years evangelists like Christopher Hopper, Thomas Taylor, Thomas Cherry, Thomas Hanby, Duncan Wright, Duncan McAllum, Alexander McNab and Robert Dall spread Methodism from Dunbar through Edinburgh and Leith to Perth, Arbroath, Dundee, Aberdeen, the Moray coast and Inverness, and out from Glasgow to Greenock, Port Glasgow and Ayr.

By then the welcome given to the message of Christ as universal saviour had alarmed the Scots Kirk and Methodism was severely set back when the revered and influential minister John Erskine published his opposition to its Arminian doctrine. The consequent refusal by many ministers to administer the Communion to Methodists or to baptize their children persuaded Wesley in 1785 to ordain preachers for Scotland and to allow the Lord's Supper to be administered in the Presbyterian manner, preceded by the production of metal tokens by communicants. Many believed that his intention, only prevented by death, was to form a separate Scottish connexion, as in America and Ireland. This failure was later seen as the reason for Methodism's lack of success in Scotland. Despite this, membership crept upwards, the message of a universal salvation was eagerly heard and, in the early nineteenth century, the number of hearers persuaded Valentine Ward, then District Chairman, to build many chapels from a conviction that preaching in private homes inhibited the progress of Methodism. However, the debts incurred soon crippled the societies. It seemed to some that the WM Conference, which had enthusiastically supported the development of the Free Church of Scotland, was ready for it to take over Scottish Methodism.

By 1851 the Religious Census showed WM as having only 0.12% of total attendances in Scotland. The reason for its slow development, apart from continuing debt, was perceived to be the refusal of the Connexion to separate the message from its forms of expression, by insisting on the regular transfer of the itinerants, on the exclusion of leaders from decisions affecting members, and on attendance at class meetings as a condition of membership. In spite of allowing non-members to communicate on presenting a 'token' and later an 'admission ticket' (a practice which survived, e.g. in Arbroath, into the twentieth century), many, notably the potential leaders, were lost to the Congregational and Free Churches, a move made easier by the decline in both Churches of anti-Arminian doctrines such as predestination. However, after the creation of the Relief and Extension Fund for Scotland in 1866 and lay representation in Conference from 1878, District membership rose from 2,594 in 1860 to 6,674 in 1900. WM's strength lay in the central and east-coast towns as far north as the Moray coast.

The MNC, which had germinated in the mind of Alexander Kilham in Aberdeen in 1792 and whose first President was the Aberdonian William Thom, had little impact except around Glasgow between 1810 and 1830. But sympathy for its aims produced Independent Methodist churches which gravitated towards Congregationalism, which, in contrast to Methodism, was strikingly successful in Scotland. PM launched missions in Edinburgh and Glasgow in 1826, where their open-air preaching and emphasis on the social gospel found ready hearers among the poor. They avoided ruinous property debts, but for many years failed to turn hearers into members, because, it was said, they had too few chapels. They had only 0.008% of total attendances in 1851, but from the 1880s they developed strong bases in Glasgow, Paisley and Edinburgh, among miners and factory workers and in the fishing villages on the Berwickshire coast. Membership rose from 1.046 in 1884 to 1,574 in 1889.

Despite the hard soil both WM and PM, led by outstanding preachers, became tough if tiny plants. By 1900 WM had 6,674 and PM 1,574 members and at the 1932 Union totalled 11,997 (9,713 of them WM). Attendances in the 1994 Church Census were 6,000 and in 1995 there were 5,883 members. A proposed union with the Church of Scotland was rejected by the Scotland Synod in 1979, but by th end of the century Methodism was actively engaged in the current Scottish Churches' Initiative for Church Unity.

See also Shetland and Orkney.


'You ask what is the state of Methodism & Religion in Scotland? Both are very low. Very little of that power of Godliness is known amongst them. The Scotch are for the most part a well informed people; they are very partial to a learn[ed] discourse from the Pulpit, & think it little better than blasphemy for a person to preach who has not had an Academical Education. I have more than once been asked at what College I study'd. We never hear any Amens. This is altogether unfashionable. We have a few very pious persons amongst us, & thro' mercy we are increasing a little. We have added a few to the Society since Conference, & have reason to hope several have got good.

'The great bar which prevents Methodism from prospering in this Country is the Doctrine of Calvin [being] nearly universally received; so that as soon as a general Salvation is offere'd we are looked upon as deceiver[s] of the People and many to this day believe the Methodists to be the false prophets mentioned in Scripture. At present Salvation is seldom heard in the Churches, the Gospel being preach'd rather as a system of Doctrines than as truths which are to be experienced.'

Thomas Preston to Jabez Bunting, Edinburgh, March 6, 1801

The 'Scotch Seceder's Prayer' (heard by Samuel Bradburn and repeated in Conference; recorded by Henry Moore, who was present on the occasion)

'O Lord, remember the fallen Kirk of Scotland, And, Lord, remember her fallen sister, the Kirk of England, And remember that man of error, George Whitefield. But above all, remember that man of sin, John Wesley, the Perfectionist.'

(Frank Baker papers, Duke University)

  • W. Clegg, Methodism in Scotland (Leeds, 1818)
  • D. Wilson, Methodism in Scotland (Aberdeen, 1850)
  • T.L. Parker, Methodism in Scotland (Knottingley, 1867)
  • Dugald Butler, John Wesley and George Whitefield in Scotland... (Edinburgh, 1898)
  • 'Scottish Primitive Methodism', in PM Magazine, 1904, pp.455-60
  • W.M. Patterson, Northern Primitive Methodism (1907)
  • Wesley F. Swift, Methodism in Scotland (1947)
  • Oliver A. Beckerlegge, 'United Methodism [the UMFC] in Scotland', in WHS Proceedings, 28 pp.96-98
  • Wesley F. Swift, 'Some Notes on Scottish Methodism', in WHS Proceedings, 30 pp.16-21
  • Oliver A Beckerlegge, 'In Search of Forgotten Methodism', in WHS Proceedings, 32 pp.109-13
  • Alan J. Hayes, 'The Extinct Methodist Societies of South-east Scotland', in WHS Proceedings, 41 pp.12-21, 43-52, 77-85, 104-16
  • Alan J. Hayes and David A. Gowland (eds.), Scottish Methodism in the Early Victorian Period: the Scottish correspondence of the Rev. Jabez Bunting, 1800-57 (Edinburgh, 1981)
  • A Skevington Wood in History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, 3 (1983) pp.265-78
  • Margaret Batty, 'Primitive Methodism in Scotland', in WHS Proceedings, 55 pp.237-51
  • A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, vol.4 (1988), pp.514-6
  • Frank Whaling, 'The Development of Methodism in Scotland'. In the Journal of the Cumbria Branch of the Wesley Historical Society, Spring and Autumn 2000
  • Margaret Batty, Scotland's Methodists 1750-2000 (2010)
  • John W. Sawkins, 'Methodist Local Preachers in Scotland', in WHS Proceedings, 59, pp.89-101
  • K.E.Beebe and David Ceri Jones, 'Whitefield and the Celtic Revivals: Whitefield's Scottish Connection', in Hammond and Jones (eds.), George Whitefield Life Context and Legacy, 2016, pp 140-147