William Chambers.

The Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral online

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bitter and bloody, but ended in the final overthrow of the
hopes of the queen, and, with her, of the Romish Church in

The time had now arrived when the final issue betwixt
Romanism and Protestantism was to be tried in Scotland.

It was June 1559, and Perth was full of determined men,
who, laying aside for the time steel jacket and morion, so as not
to appear openly in arms against the government, had gathered
to display their sympathy with the Reformers. The Queen-
Regent, Mary of Guise, had mustered her forces at Stirling,
and had vowed that though ' the preachers preached as truly as
St Paul,' she would silence them. On the 25th of the month
John Knox arrived at Perth, and the cause of the Reforma-
tion passed into the strong hands of the man who, within a
year, was to carry it to victory.

When Knox began the great struggle of his life, he was
upwards of fifty-four years of age. He had passed through
many experiences. For ten years he had been a priest of the

The Reformation. 131

Romish Church : he had stood sword m hand beside George
Wishart, when he, so soon to become a martyr, preached
in the Lothians : he had shared the rough fortunes of the
garrison of St Andrews : he had been for nearly two years
a galley-slave, now sweltering under the burning sun of the
Loire, and now chained to the oar on the German Ocean :
for four years he had ministered in England, and, alien as
he was, had risen through sheer force of character to be
one of the king's chaplains and his personal friend, to find
himself consulted on delicate affairs affecting the Church, and
to have a bishopric within his gift : he had lived for several
years on the Continent in close intercourse with some of
the keenest intellects of that or any other age ; and when he
now left his foreign home, it was amid the ' weeping of grave
men' who had learned to love as well as to venerate him.
Although he had hitherto been only for a comparatively short
period actively engaged as a preacher in his native land, yet
he was already recognised as the leading man of his party.
His correspondence abroad had been extensive, and his influ-
ence' powerful. Thus ripe in experience and worn with hard
service, he threw himself into the front rank of the Reforma-
tion; and, as if possessed of some inherent right, he was
accepted from the first as its chief. ' I assure you,' said
Randolph, years afterwards, in a letter to Secretary Cecil, ' the
voice of that one man is able, in an hour, to put more life in
us than six hundred trumpets continually blustering in our ears.
To know John Knox is to know the Scotch Reformation,
for he embodies at once the virtues and the faults which char-
acterised the movement. It is no exaggeration to say that
during the stirring period under review his voice was more
powerful than that of the sovereign or of any statesman. He
was pre-eminently patriot as well as preacher, statesman as
well as ecclesiastic. Many of the state-papers now preserved
in the English Records Office are in his handwriting, and
are known to have been his composition. His influence,

132 S^ Gi/es' Lectures.

while founded on the response which the conscience of the
nation gave to the truth he preached with a voice of thunder,
did not lack the support that such carnal weapons as sword and
spear supplied. He had only to issue his summons, and thou-
sands of steel bonnets were ready to march across moor and
over mountain to enforce his policy. For years the General
Assembly was more representative of the popular will than was
the secular government. It is true that the preachers did not
always gain the day against the barons ; but when they failed, it
was on points which were not calculated to rouse enthusiasm.
It was not to be expected that the people would rush to arms
when the question in dispute was the amount of stipend to be
paid to ministers and schoolmasters, or when the sackcloth
sheet was to be enforced on the unwilling lords. On these two
points, the Church certainly failed in its contention with the
Privy Council and the Parliament ; but on all others the voice
of the General Assembly was practically the voice of the nation.
And Knox was the very soul of the Assembly. There were
others there — Willock, Craig, Winram, Erskine of Dun, men
of learning and force of character — whose names are not un-
worthy to be compared with his. The Reformation certainly
owed much to the great ability and statesmanship of the
Regent Moray; but Knox was its embodiment. We shall
therefore deal with the Reformation and Knox as identical
terms, and speak of the Cofifession of Faith as Knox's Con-
fession; of the Book of Commo/i Prayer as Knox's Liturgy;
of the Genevan Catechism and Psalm-books as Knox's Cate-
chism and Psalm-books ; and of the Book of Discipline as an
expression of his genius. We shall in this way be able, without
any sacrifice of historical truth, to create a more living picture
of the forces then at work, by investing them with a certain
personal interest.

I propose to direct your attention to two chief topics :
I. The Church system and general polity of the Reformation ;
and II. The character and work of Knox.

The Reformation. 133

I. The fundamental principle of the Reformation was the
paramount authority of Holy Scripture. Not the Church
alone, but the nation and every member of the nation were
bound to obey the Word of God. The Church and the
nation were with Knox identical terms ; and not with him
only, for indeed neither Romish Church nor Protestant, no
statesman or theologian of that time, ever dreamed of civil
government being purely secular. Voluntaryism in the modem
sense was not even discussed. The battle, therefore, which
had primarily to be waged, was between the authority of
Scripture and the authority of the Pope. The Reformation
under Knox did not turn on questions of ecclesiastical order,
like the later contest between Prelacy and Presbytery. The
peculiar claims of Presbytery were as yet scarcely asserted,
though they were acted upon. Nor did it turn then, as it did
nearly a century afterwards, on the lawfulness of Liturgies. It
was a contest, as Kjiox would unhesitatingly have phrased it,
betwixt the authority of God as given in His Word, and the
authority of all the Bishops, Cardinals, and Councils who
dared to oppose or add to that Word. The one was true, the
other was false; the one was of God, the other of man. With
such convictions regarding the absolute rule of Scripture, he
could make no compromises. The duty of the Church was to
make known what the Scriptures taught; and, unless contrary
Scripture could be shewn, it was the duty of king and people
to submit.

This principle was entirely different from that which
primarily determined the Reformation in England. With
Henry VHI. the chief question was the supremacy of the
crown, and as long as authority was transferred from the Pope
to the English monarch, he cared little for any change in
doctrine or in ritual. For many years the mass was virtually
retained, and the desire of the king to preserve historical con-
tinuity prevented all sudden changes in public service. But
in Scotland the Reformation was the work of the people, and |

134 "SV Giles^ Lectures.

effected in spite of the Executive. The barons, with a few
exceptions, cared little for the doctrines of the preachers.
Nearly all of them were governed by purely selfish motives, and
many of them were ready to return to Rome, as some did
return, when the Reformation no longer served their interests.
The movement was essentially a popular movement, conse-
quent on newly awakened religious convictions, and partaking
of the excitement which usually accompanies such outbursts.
A great modern authority has told us that the law of reaction
is the true key to history, and the saying finds a vivid illus-
tration here. The rupture with the past was complete. At
one bound the Church leaped over ten centuries, and went
back to the Scriptures and the early Fathers. Much that was
beautiful and reverent may thereby have been sacrificed, but
the principle was the only logical one by which the popular
movement towards reform could then have been conducted.

The greatness of Knox can be measured better by what he
tried to build up than even by his intrepidity and firmness in
attacking the errors and corruptions which had demoralised
both the Church and Society, We stand amazed at the
rapidity with which the Church of the Reformation was
furnished not merely with a Confession of Faith, but with a
richness and variety of instrumentality, in startling contrast to
the denuded and unsystematic condition of the. Church now.

We shall describe the system which it was then proposed to
establish, under the following heads : (i) The doctrine of the
Church ; (2) The worship of the Church ; (3) The discipline of
the Church.

(i) In four days after Commission had been given by the
Scotch Parliament of 1560 to Knox and his four associates to
draw up a statement of doctrine, they were able to lay before it
a Confession of Faith which may in many respects be favourably
compared with the later symbol of the Westminster Divines. It
was not the first experience which Knox had in drawing up a
doctrinal system. He had assisted at the revision of the English

The Reformation. 135

Articles of Edward VI. in 1552, and had himself compiled a
Confession for the English congregation of Geneva. The
Scotch Confession, however, while betraying acquaintance
with other models, is original, independent, and masterly. It
is divided into twenty-five sections, treating of the principal
subjects with which it is the province of theology to deal.
The general scope of the treatment is Calvinistic, as might
have been expected from the relationship of Knox and the
Reformers generally to the great Genevan doctor ; nevertheless,
the spirit of the whole is broader, more human, and, if we
might use the expression, more modern than that of the West-
minster Standards. So satisfactory did it appear to such a
man as Edward Irving, that he used to read it twice a year
to his London congregation. 'This document,' he says, 'is
written in the most honest, straightforward, manly style, without
compliment or flattery, without affectation of logical precision
or learned accuracy, as if it came fresh from the heart of
laborious workmen, all day long busy with the preaching
of the truth, and sitting down at night and embodying the
heads of what they continually taught. Its doctrine is sound ;
its expression is clear ; its spirit is large and liberal ; its
dignity is personal and not dogmatic, and it is redolent with
the unction of holiness and truth.' So also does another
authority, widely removed from Irving, speak of it. 'As far
back as the Reformation,' says Dean Stanley, ' there were
indications of deeper insight — exceptional and quaint, but so
expressive as to vindicate for Christianity, even then, the widest
range which future discoveries may open before it. In the
first Confession of John Knox, the Reformers had perceived
what had been so long concealed from the eyes of the School-
men and the Fathers — that the most positive expressions, even
of their own convictions, were not guaranteed from imperfec-
tion or mutability ; and the entreaty with which that Confession
is prefaced, contains at once a fine example of true Christian
humility, and the stimulus to the noblest Christian ambition :

130 'S'/ ales' Lecfures.

" We conjure you if any man will note in this our Confession
any article or sentence repugnant to God's Holy Word, that it
would please him of his gentleness, and for Christian charity's
sake, to admonish us of the same in writing, and we upon our
honour and fidelity do promise him satisfaction from the Holy
Scriptures, or due reformation of that which he shall prove to
be amiss." ' For nearly a hundred years this Confession was
the only recognised standard of the Church of Scotland. The
greatest battles the Church ever waged were fought under it.
It was the authoritative creed of the Melvilles, the Hendersons,
the Rutherfords, and must ever be regarded as an extraordinary
evidence of the intellectual grasp and theological attainment of
those who, in four days, drew up such a document to be
adopted by the legislature of their country,

(2) But Knox had mature views regarding the necessity of
furnishing the Church with a suitable guide for its worship, as
well as its faith. Hitherto, the Protestants had been in the
habit of using the English Liturgy of Edward VI. ; but John
Knox had had a twofold experience regarding Liturgies. He
was intimately acquainted with the Anglican Prayer-book of
that time ; and he had been forced more than once to discuss
its merits. He was also familiar with the Liturgy of Geneva,
and as soon as he could assert his influence, he did not hesitate
to recommend the substitution of the Swiss Prayer-book for
that of England. He disapproved of what he termed the
'mingle-mangle' of the Anglican Liturgy. He noticed how
much room was still given in it for customs that might lead
back to superstition, and for statements that might naturally
reintroduce in substance the very doctrines of priestly power
against which he had contended. And, in spite of all that
England owes to her Prayer-book — the grandest devotional
service ever furnished to a Christian Church — we cannot, in the
light of modern controversies, deny that Knox had some ground
for the suspicions which he entertained as to the dangers
that might accrue from the ambiguous character of many

The Reformation. 137

passages. He accordingly persuaded the Assembly to take the
Genevan Prayer-book as a basis ; and in four years afterwards,
what is popularly termed Knox's Liturgy became the Service-
book of the Church of Scotland. With the exception of one
or two passages that are coloured with the passionate feeling of
the time, it is a dignified and impressive Liturgy, not altogether
unworthy to be compared with that of the sister Church. The
services are copious and varied. There are forms of prayer for
public worship, for the administration of the sacraments, for
marriage, for visitation of the sick ; besides services for special
occasions, such as the ordination of ministers, the observance
of fasts, and the administration of ecclesiastical discipline.
A comparatively large provision was also made for praise,
hymns as well as psalms being printed with fixed tunes,
and care taken that the people should be taught to sing
them well. After the issue of the Psalter in 1564, there com-
menced those interesting institutions called ' Sang Schules,'
which not only stimulated the study of music in Scotland, but
secured great efficiency in congregational singing. We find, for
example, an instance of as many as two thousand people sing-
ing the second version of the 124th Psalm, to the very music
to which it is still sung, and able to do so with a harmony
in four parts.

The Liturgy of Knox was not imposed with exclusive strict-
ness, for it might be used merely as a guide, and room was
expressly afforded after sermon for extempore prayer. Yet there
can be little doubt that the practice of the Church for many
years was towards a comparatively strict use of the Prayer-book.
It was enjoined that in all large towns prayers should be
read daily in church, except when the week-day sermon was
preached; and in other places, not supplied with a fixed
ministry, the ' reader ' was to gather the people at least once a
week, for the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and of the pre-
scribed prayers. For a hundred years this Liturgy of Knox
was the law of the Church of Scotland, and for about seventy

138 Sf ales' LeduriL

years it was universally observed. Its abandonment was in
consequence not of Scotch or Presbyterian influence, but from
the teaching of English sectaries ; and by a strange reversal
of modern associations, it was rebuked by the General
Assemblies of that time as an ' innovation,' As in the case of
the Confessioji of Faith, still more in regard to the devotional
equipment of the Church, we may look back to the earlier
years of her history with feelings of regret, that what appears
the healthier, richer, and more efficient system of our first
Reformers should ever have been superseded. Besides the
Liturgy, a Catechism was supplied for the instruction of children,
to which were attached forms of prayer for daily use in the
household, for grace before meat, and for special occasions.
The Church thus took a powerful grasp of the religious neces-
sities of the country, and met its requirements with an almost
imperial plan of Christian training. Nothing essential was left
to the amateur efforts of individuals or voluntary societies, but
a well-considered scheme was at once established, practical and
far-reaching, and fortunately not hindered in its application by
sectarian division within the dominant Protestantism.

(3) The Book of Disciplme is perhaps even a greater testi-
mony to the patriotism and statesmanship of Knox. It was a
book of discipline in the sense of the Latin Disciplma — a book
of training — the statute-book of the Church, in which his plan
for educating the people as a Christian commonwealth was
exhibited. It therefore embraced not merely the correction of
morals, as the term ' church discipline ' usually signifies, but the
whole polity of the Church, as distinct from its creed or the
order of its worship. It includes the organisation of the
Church in respect of its office-bearers ; the regulation of
schools and colleges with their endowments, and the nature
of the education to be imparted ; the maintenance of the poor ;
and the principles on which ecclesiastical censures are to be
administered. We shall take a brief survey of each of these
important subjects.

The Reformation. 139

{a) The Organisation of the Church. — It would be difficult to
rank under any of the usual ecclesiastical systems the type of
Church organisation which prevailed during the first twenty
years of the Reformation. Knox did not entertain any very
strong beliefs as to the necessity of ordination, although his
views respecting the sacraments were 'higher' than what are
now practically held. He did not believe that any special
grace or Apostolic descent of authority was received from the
mere laying on of hands. Personally, he regarded the call of
the people of God (for from the first the Church recognised the
popular voice in the election of ministers), the trial of gifts by
the Church, and due appointment, as all that was necessary
for valid orders. But whatever value may lie in the doctrine of
Apostolic succession, the Church of Scotland, in the days of
Knox, and certainly the Church since 1638, did possess it
through its presbyters. Nearly all the first ministers of the
Church had previously been priests, and although irregularity
in the form of ordination crept in during the first twenty
years of its history, yet this quickly vanished with the Second
Book of Discipline, and the High Church Presbyterianism of the
Melvilles. The validity of orders through the line of Presbyters
was then recognised and acted on by the Church of England,
and by all the churches of the Reformation, The framers of
the Thirty-nine Articles, and such divines as Tillotson, Grindall,
and even the High Church Bancroft, acknowledged the position
of those ordained by presbyters alone. Presbyterian ministers
were freely admitted, and even made bishops, without reordina-
tion.* But the point of orders was subordinate in the days of
Knox to the more difficult problem, as to how the spiritual
wants of the country were to be overtaken at all. The first
General Assembly consisted of forty-two members ; and of
these only six were ministers. On counting up the names of all

^ See a series of papers on Apostolic Succession in the Christian In-
strtcctor for 1838 ; also a Sermon preached in 1S73 before the Synod of
Aberdeen, by Rev. Geo. W. Sprott.

14° 'S^ ales' Lectures.

those, lay or clerical, throughout the country, who, in addi-
tion to the members of Assembly, were considered suitable for
acting as ministers or readers, only forty-three could be named.
There were therefore not ninety persons in the whole country
on whom the first General Assembly could rely for assistance
in the great work committed to its charge. Common-sense
dictated the one course which was fitted for utilising these
small resources. The basis of the Church system was Presby-
terian, for it consisted of the three offices of presbyter, elder,
and deacon — whose functions were similar to those now
associated with the names — but following the example of some
of the foreign Churches, Scotland was divided into ten dioceses
or districts, over each of which it was proposed that a Super-
intendent should be appointed. These superintendents were
not in any sense bishops. They might be laymen, were under
the authority of the Assembly, and had no exclusive right to
ordain. There was also another extremely useful office
recognised — namely, that of Readers. Teachers or Doctors
were also recognised as Church functionaries. This system
was the best possible for the time. It is stamped with the
common-sense of Knox, who, anything but an ecclesiastical
doctrinaire, took the readiest instruments for accomplishing
the work in hand. The effect justified the practical wisdom
of the Reformer, for so great was the advance that, in 1567,
there were about two hundred and eighty-nine ministers and
seven hundred and fifteen readers, with five superintendents,
labouring in the Church.

(^) The provision made for ecclesiastical discipline was
ample, through all the various stages of humiliation, from
privy censure to excommunication. The severity with which
it was exercised is a painful feature in the history of the
Reformation. It was one of the few customs of the Romish
Church which the Protestants preserved. But while we may
feel justified in condemning them, we must not forget that
such efforts were urgently needed in order to create a higher

The Reformation. 141

public tone on questions of morality. Everything we know
tends to prove that all ranks of society were steeped in
shameless coarseness. The Reformers, as Christian men, could
not admit the excuse that other countries were equally bad, or
that such was 'the habit of the times.' They had their Bibles
in their hands, and knew what God required of His Church ;
and so they determined to purify it by reproving wrongdoers,
as well as by preaching the gospel. It is to their credit that
they were impartial as well as brave in their rebukes. No class
was spared. The Lord High Treasurer was dealt with as
faithfully as the humblest peasant ; and on none did the hand
of the Church fall with greater severity than upon any minister
overtaken in a fault. The result, for a time at least, and so
far as appearances went, justified the stern regime. Knox could
challenge the verdict of his contemporaries as to the beneficial
effect upon society.

{c) The rest of the Book of Discipline referred chiefly to the
uses to which the revenues of the ancient Church were to be
applied. The property of the Romish Church was enormous,
amounting to about one-half of that of the whole kingdom,
and the Church, the poor, and the education of the people,
were the three objects to which it was proposed to dedicate a
proportion of these resources. A modest but sufficient pro-
vision was to be laid aside for the decent sustenance of the
ministry ; the deserving poor were to be supported in their own
parishes at the sight of the elders and deacons ; and the very
highest possible education — far higher than ever has been
attained since — was to be supplied to the people. The
commonwealth had a right, Knox said, to assert a paramount
claim on every child, and to compel it to be educated. If poor,
their expenses were to be paid ; but no father, of whatsoever
estate or condition, was 'to use his children at his own
phantasy,' but must ' be compelled to bring them up in learning
and virtue.' Schoolmasters were accordingly to be attached
to every church ; while in * upland ' districts, the reader was to

142 Sf Gties' Lectures.

attend to the necessities of the young. Grammar or secondary
schools were to be erected in every considerable town ; and the
whole system linked on to the universities. In the parish
school, instruction was to be given, not only in elementary
subjects, but in the rudiments of Latin ; while in the grammar-

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersThe Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral → online text (page 16 of 37)