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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schools, the tongues — embracing Latin, French, and perhaps
Greek — rhetoric, and philosophy, were to be taught. Once
every quarter the pupils at all the schools were to be examined,
and any scholar, however poor, shewing aptitude for learning,
was to be directed in his studies, through the grammar-school
to the university. The curriculum for such students -"as long
and thorough, extending, in the case of the learned professions,
to at least the twenty-fourth year of a man's age. Liberal
endowments were proposed for the teachers and professors, and
a splendidly equipped staff was to be appointed to each of the
universities. For the maintenance of this magnificent national
system, embracing the support of the poor, the efficiency of the
Church, and the education of the whole body of the people, it
was proposed to take as much as was requisite from the enor-
mous endowments of the ancient Church. A grander scheme
for the elevation of a people never emanated from the brain
of patriot or statesman — and it was a scheme whose accom-
plishment was then quite within the power of the nation. If
Scotland was, in one aspect of the polity, to be made a kind
of modern theocracy, in which all departments of government
were to be guided by Scriptural texts and examples, it was,
according to another part, to be raised to the front rank
among educated nations. The former design would un-
doubtedly have broken down when the relative functions of the
civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions came to be determined.
For Knox drew no very distinct line betwixt the two. The
State was as much bound to govern the Church and enforce
Scriptural rule on its observance, as the Church was bound
to press Scriptural rule on the State. But the educational
project sketched by Knox is magnificent.

The Reformatioji. 143

Such were the system, the creed, the worship, the pohty of
the Church of the Reformation ; and when we contemplate the
massive structure thus planned in the space of four years,
chiefly by the genius of one man, we know not which is the
more prominent feeling — astonishment at the grandeur of the
system, or indignation at the unprincipled cupidity of the
nobility and barons which prevented its execution. For the
barons, who were ready to adopt the Confessioji of Faith, re-
fused the Book of Discipline. It was ' but a devout imagina-
tion,' said worldly-wise Lethington ; and he was right. Assent
to abstract doctrines was very different from submission to any
interference with dissolute living, and still more ftfem thwarted
avarice. ' The belly hath no ears,' replied Knox, who felt that
reasoning and principle were alike thrown away upon the
hungry landowners who had enlisted in the army of reform for
the sake of the plunder consequent on its victories. There
were doubtless conscientious and patriotic men like Argyll,
Moray, and Glencaim among them, who were in full sympathy
with the preachers ; but they were the exception. For years
they had as a class been bribed either by England or France ;
and they now displayed a rapacity, the disgrace of which can
only be equalled by the injury inflicted upon the country.
In vain the preachers protested. They alone remained pure of
the taint of avarice. For years the ministers, cheated by false
promises and resolutions of the Privy Council, and denied
possession even of manse or glebe, lived in honourable

II. Character and Work of Knox. — Two figures stand out
from the crowd in the stirring scenery of the Reformation in
Scotland. John Knox and Queen Mary are the historical
representatives of the two great cuiTents of opinion and
policy which then contended for the mastery. They were
each endowed with an intellect of unusual vigour, with keen
political insight, and with a most resolute will. Mary was

144 'S'/ Giles' Lectures.

in her own way almost as remarkable as Knox. To quick-
ness of perception, subtlety of project, and heroic bravery,
she added a beauty and fascination which supplied exquisite
instruments for her skilful and ceaseless diplomacy. She
had all the artistic grace and charm of the Stuarts ; and if
some of their faults also, these were combined with greater
mental power and force of character than were found perhaps
in any other of her race. Every one must regard with
generous pity the young girl whose misfortune it was to be
cast into a position for which by temperament and education
she was so utterly unfitted. We must admire her devoted
loyalty to her creed — a virtue by which some others of her race
also lost their crowns. But while doing so, we join issue
with the romantic school which, affecting a sentimental loyalty
to the Stuarts, would canonise Mary as a saint and martyr.
We have a very different conviction regarding her. From
the first, she only lacked opportunity to have extinguished the
Reformation in a sea of blood; and in all her coquetting
with the Protestants, the smooth glove she wore covered a
gauntlet of steel. She had been taught as a girl to gaze
upon the martyrdoms of which the Huguenots were the
victims. For some time after her arrival in Scotland, she
acted her part skilfully and without guilt; but the barbarous
assassination of Rizzio, perpetrated under circumstances of
the coarsest brutality, seems to have demoralised her finer
nature. That terrible scene, when the poor wretch, clutch-
ing at his mistress for protection, was dragged forth to his
doom by the hard-featured barons, and the still more terrible
discovery of the complicity of her husband Darnley — had
awakened a fierce desire for revenge. The malign influence of
Bothwell completed the moral injury she had sustained, and
all ended — God knows alone through what gradual steps she
was led on ! — in the terrible crime of Kirk-o'-Field.

John Knox has been the object of almost as keen detraction
as Queen Mary, but the closer our examination, the more

The Reformation. 145

we are forced to recognise in him one of the noblest men —
sincere, truthful and brave— our country ever produced. He
has been described as a rigid Puritan who frowned down
laughter and innocent amusements ; a ruthless iconoclast, to
whom we are indebted for roofless cathedrals and ruined abbeys;
as intolerant as any cardinal or inquisitor, exchanging the
infallibility of the Pope for that of himself and the General
Assembly. Men suppose they can trace the influence of Knox
in the miserable barns which have taken the place of the old
Gothic churches, and throw upon him the blame of the ugliness
which has so long characterised our ecclesiastical system.

Now, we would not conceal the faults with which Knox is
fairly chargeable. The language he employed — sometimes in
public prayer — regarding the religion and character of Mary,
seemed even to his contemporaries needlessly coarse and
sti^ong. His interviews with the Queen were marked not
by the dexterity of the courtier, but by the unflinching faith-
fulness of a man to whom a great cause was intrusted. * I
know that many have complained,' he said on his death-bed,
'much and loudly, and do still complain of my too great severity;
but God knows that my mind was always free from hatred to
the persons of those against whom I denounced the heavy judg-
ments of God. . . . For a certain reverential fear of my God
who called me, and was pleased of his grace to make me a
Steward of divine mysteries . . . had such powerful effect as
to make me utter so intrepidly whatever the Lord had put into
my mouth, without any respect of persons. Therefore I profess
before God and his own holy angels that I never made gain of
the sacred word of God, that I never studied to please men,
never indulged my own private passions or those of others,
but faithfully distributed the talent intrusted to my care for the
edification of the Church over which I did watch. Whatever
obloquy wicked men may throw upon me respecting this
matter, I rejoice in the testimony of a good conscience.'
' It was unfortunately not possible,' writes Carlyle, ' to be


14^ St ales' Lectures.

polite with the Queen of Scotland, unless one proved untrue to
the Nation and Cause of Scotland. A man who did not wish to
see the land of his birth made a hunting-field for intriguing
ambitious Guises, and the Cause of God trampled underfoot of
Falsehoods, Formulas, and the Devil's Cause, had no method of
making himself agreeable.' It must, however, be remembered
that this method of speaking to a sovereign was not un-
common in that period. It may be paralleled by the language
Latimer privately addressed to King Henry VIII., and by the
sermons preached by Reginald Pole regarding the marriage of
Anne Boleyn. There are indeed things which Knox has
written that we wish he had never penned. The models he
put before him were unfortunately borrowed more from the
Old than from the New Testament ; and Samuel slaying Agag,
Elijah executing the priests of Baal, the Israelites extermin-
ating the Canaanites, and such-like events, were recognised
not only as teaching general principles, but as affording to
himself title to apply the principles, and to act towards
Mary and her co-religionists with the rigour of ancient
Judaism. The man, indeed, felt he had no choice. The true
key to his severity is to be found in nothing personal, but
in his deep awe of God's word and in the belief that he
was God's prophet, sent to apply that word to every political
as well as religious matter that might occur. ' I find no more
privilege granted unto kings by God, more than unto the
people to offend God's majesty,' were his grave words to
Lethington ; but he adds : ' When kings do expressly oppose
themselves to God's commandment, the people are bound
to execute God's law upon them.' Such principles, when
cautiously interpreted, are undoubtedly true, but they become
dangerous if their application is to be left in the hands of
every self-constituted judge of the occasion which renders their
vindication necessary.

But without concealing those defects and exaggerations, we
believe that Knox was the very opposite of what a certain type

The Reformation. 147

of detractors would fain represent him. So far from being a
sour Puritan, his history shews a man full of humour and
bonhomfnie, with an intense sense of the ludicrous. Our space
does not admit of our giving illustrations of the humour with
which his history abounds. We would simply refer to the
descriptions of the carrying 'the young Sanct Geile,' and of
the fray between the partisans of the two bishops in' Glasgow

There was surely something of the geniality of Luther in
one who on his death-bed caused a visitor ' pierce ane hoggit of
wine which was in the cellar, and willed the said Archibald to
send for more as long as it lasted, for he would never tarry
until it were drunken.' He indeed denounced dancing at the
court, and put down Maid Marian and the May-pole ; but we
have too much evidence as to the character of the dancing and
of the popular sports of those times, not to attribute his con-
demnations to other causes than harsh Puritanism. He was
certainly intolerant, but toleration in the modern sense is an
anachronism in the sixteenth century. He insisted on the
suppression of the mass, whether in the Queen's chapel or in
the remote Baronial keep. On the authority of a verse in the
Old Testament, he even urged the execution of the ' mass-
mongering papists ' as idolaters. But putting aside doctrinal
beliefs, we must not forget that the mass was then the symbol
of a system which was pledged to exterminate Knox and every
Protestant. The Council of Trent was then issuing its decrees
for the extinction of heretics, and the Catholic powers, including
Queen Mary herself, were leagued for their execution. The
dark-minded Philip was filling Spain with autos-da-fe; Alva was
ravaging the Netherlands ; the Duchess of Parma was crushing
liberty in Holland ; France was preparing for St Bartholomew ;
even Elizabeth of England was but a half-hearted Protestant.
It would have required superhuman toleration in a man of
the keen political insight of Knox to remain indifferent to
the possible destruction of faith and liberty, of which every mass-3.

148 Sf dies' Lectures.

that was celebrated was practically the pledge. Even now we
could not view with calmness a Queen in visible opposition to
the Protestant faith, and bringing her priest with bell and candle
to every castle she visited. Knox saw how Mary from the day
of her arrival in Holyrood was by her bewitching grace acting
as a solvent on the stern convictions of his associates. Moray
for a time was fascinated ; Lethington was won over. The
men who tried to ' swim betwixt two waters ' were increasing ;
Popery began to shew itself ! It was necessary for Knox and
the preachers to stand firm. The mass was idolatry ; and if
the country would escape the judgments with which God had
visited the sins of the Kings of Judah and Israel, the Queen
must not be privileged to disobey Jehovah. But his intoler-
ance was in word only, for whatever he may have said or urged,
it must be remembered that there was no martyrdom during
the time Knox had influence. He was certainly intolerant in
the modern sense ; but it was precisely such intolerance as
could alone have produced the Reformation. The colourless
' Liberal Thought ' of the present day, with its hesitation as to
all religious beliefs, would never have emancipated Scotland. It
required the firm, almost relentless, grasp of determined men,
who had no doubts, but who could boldly say, 'Thus saith
the Lord,' as theyjiurled falsehood and superstition from their
seats, and built up religion and political freedom.

It has long been the habit to refer every ruined shrine in
Scotland to the vandalism of Knox and the Reformers ; and
there is perhaps no class of Scotchmen who condemn Knox
on this account more than the landed gentry, who stand aloof
from the Church of Knox. There is no class, however, who
are less entitled to be heard in accusation. Knox did his best
to check ' the rascal multitude * which ruined the churches of
Perth and destroyed Scone. Cathedrals, abbeys, and churches
were undoubtedly cleansed of their images, altars, and other
superstitious symbols ; and monastic establishments and one or
two cathedrals received even a rougher handling. But the

The Reformation. 1 49

destruction effected by the Reformers in a time of great popular
excitement is not to be compared with that caused by the
invading armies of England, and was infinitely less than
what was produced by the sacrilegious penuriousness and
carelessness of the Scotch heritors. Were we to trace the
causes to which we must attribute, on the one hand, the utter
ruin of so many ancient and noble piles, and on the other, the
meanness of so many of the edifices which now serve as parish
churches, it would be found that the connection is very
slight with the Reformation or with any principle inherent in
Presbyterianism. One of the keenest controversies Knox had
with the Privy Council was to secure the repair of churches,
'in such a manner as appertaineth as well to the majesty of the
Word of God as unto the ease and commoditie of the
people.' The spirit of Puritanism imported into Scotland
a century afterwards, undoubtedly did much to destroy the
feeling of art among the people ; but the expense of upholding
the ancient buildings, the value of the lead and slates which
protected them, and their convenience as quarries from which
ready-made materials might be had for erecting farm-houses or
mansions, have demolished our churches and abbeys infinitely
more than ever Knox did.

But without dwelling further on the misrepresentations of
which Knox has been the subject, let us glance at the work he
accomplished besides that already sketched. One work of
Knox was the creation of a new class in Scotland — the seed of
the nation that was to be — religious, educated, strong in convic-
tion even to bigotry, self-reliant, industrious and bold. Hitherto
the feudal system had placed all the power of the country
in the hands of the great lords and barons. The burghs had
perhaps more than a semblance of freedom from feudal depend-
ence, but it was little more than a semblance. Neither the
lesser barons, living in their * Peels,' round which clustered the
cots of hinds and shepherds, nor the villagers dwelling near
the parish church or by the great abbey, ever dreamed of

150 S^ Giles' Lecher es.

asserting their individual opinions or their rights. There was
no middle class, there were no Commons to form a Third Estate
along with the Crown and the temporal and spiritual peers.
But the Reformation, as it was founded on an appeal to ' every
man's conscience in the sight of God,' accompanied by enlight-
ened insti-uction in Divine truth, produced the natural result of
kindling a sense of personal responsibility in all who received
it, and of emancipating the manhood of the country from the
bondage of blind obedience to priest or baron. After the
religious revolution of 1560, when the country was covered
with evangelists, when the policy of the General Assembly
found living voice in every pulpit, and when the mind of the
leaders of the Church was expounded by every superintendent,
minister, and reader, in all corners of the land, there came a
mighty stirring of the slumbering masses. Men commenced to
think for themselves, and to recognise their responsibility to
God as members of the commonwealth. Conviction grew into
devotion, and the Scotch small proprietors, burghers, artisans,
and peasantry, beginning to breathe somewhat of the indomi-
table spirit which afterwards secured the freedom of their
country and their faith, now grew into a powerful middle class
— firm through conviction. ' It was not for nothing,' says
Mr Froude, 'that John Knox had for ten years preached in
Edinburgh, and his words been echoed from a thousand pulpits.
Elsewhere the plebeian element of nations had risen to power
through the arts and industries which make men rich — the
commons of Scotland were sons of their religion. While the
nobles were splitting into factions, chasing their small ambi-
tions, taking security for their fortunes, or entangling them-
selves in political intrigues, tradesmen, mechanics, and poor
tillers of the soil had sprung suddenly up into consciousness,
with spiritual convictions for which they were prepared to
live or die. The fear of God in them left no room for the
fear of any other thing, and in the very fierce intolerance
which John Knox had poured into their convictions, they had

The Reformation, 151

become a force in the State. The poor clay, which a genera-
tion earher the haughty barons would have trodden into slime,
had been heated in the red-hot furnace of the new faith
.... Scotch Protestantism was shaped by Knox into a creed
for the people ; a creed in which the Ten Commandments were
of more importance than science, and the Bible than all the
literature in the world ; narrow, fierce, defiant, but hard and
strong as steel.' The middle class which John Knox was
inspiring with his own convictions, was the beginning of that
Scotch people to whom we belong. The Scotch people have
grown with the Scotch Church. The Church has been the pal-
ladium of popular liberty, the mother of education, the trainer
of the people in truthfulness and in an independence regulated
by a supreme loyalty to the Word of God.

The work of Knox in Scotland was felt far beyond the
country in which he laboured. The entire population of
Scotland at that period was about the same as that of Glasgow
in the present day. But the victory of Protestantism in Scot-
land was more complete than in any other country in Europe,"
except perhaps the Republic of Geneva. The German Pro-
testant States were as yet part of the Catholic Empire; the
Protestants of Holland and the Netherlands were struggling
to relax the grasp with which Spain was attempting to
strangle their new beliefs; the policy of England was hesi-
tating ; but Scotland at one stride had passed out of the
most corrupt ecclesiastical system in Europe into the purity of
the primitive faith. This had its influence on contemporary
history. It had a very marked influence then and afterwards
upon England, and many a despairing heart abroad got new
courage from the spectacle. But the political as well as
religious principles which were then expounded scattered a
seed which took root in other times and places. Cromwell,
the Puritans — maligned as they are by those who enjoy the
fruit of their struggles — the English Revolution of 1688,
the constitutional monarchy of the present day, and America

152 Sf Giles' Lectu7'es.

as it now is, may trace the stream of their history to its
fountain-head in the victory of Knox over absolutism and in
the assertion of the supreme rule of Scripture.

The position of Knox and of the Reformation was long
critical, and the difficulties which had to be contended with
were enormous. Knox was well acquainted with the ceaseless
diplomacy and ' practices ' going on among the Catholic
powers for the extirpation of heresy, but he could not have
realised the danger in which his country more than once
stood. The perils to which the Church was exposed from
parties in Scotland were small compared with that which was
threatened by larger movements, which, if successful, would
have crushed liberty and religion from John o' Groat's to
the Land's End.

There were two occasions on which foreign intrigue so
supported the designs of Mary and the Catholic party in
England and Scotland as to bring affairs to the very edge of
a precipice over which Protestantism and liberty would have
been hurled, and on both of these occasions the danger
was averted by the occurrence of great crimes. Immediately
before the assassination of Darnley the train had been skilfully
laid for something being done ' for the restoration of the auld
religion,' as the Queen herself confessed in her letter to Arch-
bishop Beaton, her ambassador at Paris. We cannot here
describe the particular steps which had prepared the possibility
of her success. Point after point had been gradually reached,
until the goal of her ambition was all but attained. Such of
the Scotch Lords as had been the very soul of the Reforma-
tion were in banishment, and their estates were about to be
confiscated ; the power of the sword was for the first time in her
hand ; she had been able to restore the Bishops to their seats in
Parliament ; several powerful nobles had returned to the old
faith ; the mass was being celebrated with startling freedom,
and friars were preaching in Holyrood ; it was even said
that new altars were ready to be placed in St Giles'. But at the

The Reformation. 153

very moment when the plot had reached its crisis, Rizzio was
assassinated, and the kingdom thrown into confusion. Had the
Queen possessed the skill to have used that crime to her
advantage, it might have been the means of strengthening her
throne and of advancing her designs. But Mary could not for-
give the outrage she had sustained at the hands of her husband,
and her mad attachment to Bothwell, followed by the atrocity
of Kirk-o'-Field, her subsequent reckless bearing, and her
surrender at Carberry, led first to her compulsory resignation,
and finally to her imprisonment in England. She was branded
by the populace as an adulteress and murderess, and as far
as the commons of Scotland were concerned, her influence
sank with her reputation. The Reformation passed safely
through its first great peril, and the Regency of Moray for a
time gave security and the formal sanction of the crown to
the Church as restored to purity.

Even the partisans of Mary, shocked by her follies, if not
her complicity in the actual murder of Darnley, for a time
abandoned their plots in her favour. But it was only for a
brief time. Fotheringay, with its fair prisoner, soon became
the centre of new ' practices.' Conspirators were busy among
the English Catholics, and Spain once more took up the thread
and began to spin new combinations for the overthrow of
Elizabeth and the establishment of Romanism under Mary.
She was to marry Norfolk, and Norfolk was to lead the
Catholics of England to her side. Scotland became broken up
into contending factions. The Queen found the ablest of all
her counsellors in Maitland of Lethington, and he ' practised '
with such effect among the nobles — who for different reasons,
chiefly selfish, were jealous of the Regency — that a strong force

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 17 of 37)