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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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price for our Presbytery, though it cost the clergy their dignities
and lands, and the country some bloody agonies.



1 66 Si Giles^ Lectures.



Having swept away the Episcopal polity so far as an Act of
Assembly could do it, Melville and his party set themselves to
build up the Presbyterian. The Second Book of Discipline
was compiled and approved of by the Church. It is curious
that in this famous constitutional document only four ecclesias-
tical assemblies are mentioned — the CEcumenical, the National,
the Provincial, and the Congregational. The Q^lcumenical was
never realised till the Pan-Presbyterian Council met in Edin-
burgh three years ago. The National is the General Assembly
which from that time till this, save in times of suppression, has
held its sittings annually. The Provincial is the Synod. The
Congregational Court or Eldership appears to agree in its main
features with the Kirk-session. But what of the Presbytery —
the most rudimental court of the Presbyterian Church ? It is
not once mentioned. The truth is, it was not yet clearly
conceived of as a court separate from the kirk-session. More
than one-half of the parishes were yet without regular ministers.
One minister, in many cases, dispensed the sacraments in four
or five different parishes, where there were only readers to read
the Book of Common Order on the Sundays. There was one
Eldership for such a group of congregations. But as the
parishes were gradually supplied with ministers, an ecclesiastical
development took place which resulted in every congregation
having its own kirk-session and every district its own Presbytery.
The original Eldership parted into two separate organisations.

Up to this time there had been no such thing as a Presbytery
in Scotland ; but even while the Second Book of Discipline was
being debated in the Assembly, Presbyteries were being consti-
tuted in different parts of the country. They at once attracted
the attention of the Court. Some of their moderators were sum-
moned before the Privy Council, jealous of this new ecclesi-
astical judicature, and ordered to produce their minutes. But
the work of constituting Presbyteries went on, and they soon
existed everywhere. As they increased, the occupation of the
Superintendent was gone.



Episcopacy^ Presbytery, and Puritanism in Scotland. 167



The king was now a lad of fifteen, and a very precocious lad.
He had nominally at least assumed the reins of government.
Morton had laid down the regency, and soon afterwards was
compelled to lay down his neck under the knife of the Maiden ;
and his head now grinned from the highest gable of the
Tolbooth. Two gay young men had become the constant
companions of the king — Esme Stuart, generally known as
Mons. D'Aubigny ; and Captain James Stuart, a son of Lord
Ochiltree's. The first was a Frenchified cousin of the king ; the
second, a worse than Frenchified brother-in-law of John Knox —
a curious conjunction. The one soon became Duke of Lennox
and the other Earl of Arran, for James was prodigal of titles to
his favourites. These two ruled everything. The English
Court was alarmed, and so were the Scotch Presbyterian
ministers. And there was good cause. The bishops who had
not demitted their office, were maintained in their cathedrals
and dioceses in defiance of the mandates of the Church. It
was rumoured that Popery as well as Prelacy was about to be
re-introduced ; and the public recantation by D'Aubigny of his
popish errors, did not allay the panic. It was regarded as a
sham. The horrors of St Bartholomew's Day, still fresh in the
memory, intensified the feeling. It was at this crisis the Raid
of Ruthven took place. The royal lad was wheedled to Hunt-
ingtower, near Perth, and kept a virtual prisoner by the Earl of
Gowrie and other Presbyterian lords ; Lennox and Arran were
obliged to flee for their lives, and almost every pulpit in the
kingdom proclaimed the deliverance of the Kirk and the king
from the hands of their enemies. But it was a short-lived
jubilee. Within a year James managed to escape from his
keepers, and was soon surrounded by his old friends. The
Raid was declared to be treason. Most of the barons hastened
to make their submission, and were forgiven ; but not so the
ministers. Many of them still justified the deed in their
sermons, and foremost among these was Melville, who, with his
fierce elocution, told the king to be warned by the fearful



1 68 5/ Giles' Lectures.



examples of Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar. He was sum-
moned before the Privy Council, but declined its jurisdiction,
and ventured to be contemptuous. Ordered to enter himself as
a prisoner at Blackness Castle, he thought it safer to cross the
Border and seek a refuge in Berwick.

It is certain that James had already contracted a dislike of
Presbytery ; and the Raid of Ruthven and the plain speaking
of the preachers had deepened the feeling. In 1584 the Acts
were passed by the Estates which are known in history as the
Black Acts. They ratified the jurisdiction of the Three Estates \
they declared the king to be supreme in all causes and over all
persons ; they placed the chief ecclesiastical authority in the
hands of the bishops. These enactments struck at the root of
the most cherished principles of Presbytery. Some of the
ministers left the country ; the most of them sullenly submitted,
for what else could they do ? For eight years from this time
there was ecclesiastical chaos in Scotland — Episcopacy and
Presbytery jumbled confusedly together.

But strange to say, at the very time when the fortunes of
Presbytery were at the lowest ebb, an Act of Parliament was
passed, which made a well-endowed Episcopate for ever after
impossible in Scotland. In 1587 the Act of Annexation was
passed, which attached the temporalities of all benefices to the
crown. The teinds still remained sacred, but the lands were
secularised. It was the first direct act of disendowment con-
nected with the Reformation. If the rich estates which had
maintained the splendour of the Pre-Reformation bishops and
abbots, had remained with the crown, for national uses, we
might not so much have lamented it ; but many of them were
soon squandered by the prodigal James among his favourites,
and now they only increase the acreage of some of our great
proprietors. When the next act of disendowment comes, how
much of the teinds will go in the same way ?

During all this time Presbyterianism and Episcopacy were
struggling for supremacy, and now Presbyterianism managed



episcopacy, Presbytery, and Puritanism in Scotland. 169



to throw its antagonist. But how, it is difficult to say. James
had got married to a Danish princess, and had been engaged in
drinking-bouts with the Danish nobles, forgetful of Episcopacy
and Presbytery alike. When the young husband returned, he
was immensely pleased with everything and with everybody, for
the Presbyterian ministers and people had given him a right
royal welcome. In the Assembly of 1590, he delivered his
celebrated speech. As Calderwood has it, ' he fell forth prais-
ing God that he was born in such a time as the time of the
light of the Gospel, to such a place as to be king in such a
Kirk, the sincerest Kirk in the world. The Kirk of Geneva,'
he continued, ' keepeth Pasche and Yule ; what have they for
them ? they have no institution. As for our neighbour Kirk in
England, it is an ill-said mass in English, wanting nothing but
the liftings. I charge you, my good people, ministers, doctors,
elders, nobles, gentlemen, and barons, to stand to your purity 3
and I forsooth, so long as I brook my life and crown, shall
maintain the same against all deadly.' This speech is very like
our Scotch King Solomon, and yet it is altogether unlike every-
thing else he ever said or did. It gives the lie to all his past
and all his future. But for the time being he was sincere.
Two years afterwards, in June 1592, the Act was passed which
is known as the Magna Charta of the Presbyterian Church in
Scotland. It annulled the Black Acts so far as they infringed
upon ecclesiastical jurisdiction in spiritual affairs ; it gave legal
sanction to the Presbyterian Courts, and provided that presen-
tations to benefices should henceforth be laid before the Presby-
teries, who were instructed to take the presentees on trial, and
give them collation should they be found qualified. This last
clause made the presbyters of those days to rejoice with exceed-
ing great joy, for it stripped the bishops of the most essential
attribute of their office, and gave it to the Presbyteries; and
yet, strange to say, it was this very clause which, in 1843, split
the Church asunder, from the Church's refusal to take on trial
the presentee to Auchterarder. It does not seem to have



lyo Si Giles' Lectures.



occurred to Andrew Melville, stickler for spiritual jurisdiction
though he was, that it was wrong for the Parliament to impose
this upon the Church; it was rather a thing for which the
Church should be devoutly thankful; but the successors of
Andrew Melville, two hundred and fifty years afterwards,
thought differently, and read the clause as putting a yoke on
their necks, which they could not and would not bear. The
bishops who were dispossessed in 1592, were avenged in 1843.

In 1592 Presbytery was supreme, but it did not long main-
tain its supremacy. It abused its power. The king wished to
be lenient to some of his great nobles in the North who were
still attached to Popery. The ministers would have no mercy
upon them. They would confiscate their estates and drive
them into exile. The pulpit then performed the work which
the press has usurped now, and fierce philippics were pro-
nounced against the king and his courtiers. David Black, one
of the ministers of St Andrews, preached a sermon denouncing
king, queen, court, council, in language which would hardly
be used now by the most violent republican demagogue. He
was summoned before the Privy Council, but he declined its
jurisdiction. As the altar consecrated the gift, so, in those
high days, it was thought the pulpit sanctified every word that
was spoken in it, however libellous or treasonable it might be.
Notwithstanding his declinature, he was found guilty, and
banished north of the Tay ; for our Highland glens were
regarded then as Siberia is now among the Russians, or as
Botany Bay was lately among ourselves. But the matter did
not end here. The whole Church had been excited by the
trial, and the excitement culminated in a riot in Edinburgh, in
which James thought his royal life was endangered. He came
to the conclusion that Presbytery could not be bridled, and
that it must be destroyed.

He carried out his plans with considerable kingcraft. He
shifted the meeting-place of the Assembly from Edinburgh to
the North, where a love for Prelacy and even Popery still



Episcopacy, Presbytery, and Puritanism in Scotland. 171



lingered. Moreover, it was hoped die turbulent spirits of the
South and West would not travel so far — for a long journey it
then was. The first Assembly was held at Perth, but the king's
design was there veiled under general propositions. Soon
afterwards, another Assembly met at Dundee, and there a
standing Commission was appointed of some of the most
eminent and ambitious ministers of the Church — one of them
bearing the name and, I suppose, the blood of our present
Premier. In the month of December of that same year, 1597,
these Commissioners, who seem to have understood well the
part they were to play, appeared before the Estates, and craved
that some of their number should be admitted to Parliament
as the Third Estate. The crave was granted ; but it was pro-
vided that if they entered Parliament it must be as bishops,
abbots, or priors, as in the olden time. This was exactly what
was wanted, and indeed just what had been arranged. Again
an Assembly was summoned to meet at Dundee. The king
was present, and protested that he did not wish to see ' papist-
ical or Anglican bishops,' but only some of the wisest of the
ministers to sit in Parliament and Council, and ' not to be
standing as poor supplicants at the door.' The proposal
sounded well, and was carried, notwithstanding the resolute
opposition of some of the more sturdy Presbyterians. It was
remarked that it was the Northern ministers who had decided
the vote. Caithness and Orkney led the ring. The Southern
ministers bitterly complained of this, just as some people are
complaining at this present moment of the preponderating
vote of the North in a somewhat different matter. Thus had
James very dexterously managed to insert the thin edge of
Episcopacy into the Church. Of course, it was something for a
parish minister to sit in Parliament, and become a member
of the Privy Council, and a lord of Session. It was scarcely
in flesh and blood to resist these honours when they Avere
thrust upon them. How many of us would resist them now ?
And why then should we severely blame these ancient pres-



1^2 St Giles' Lectures.



byters when their ambition had been stimulated and the
consciousness, of a ParUamentary power, to be still further
developed in their descendants, was already stirring their blood?

Five years after this, James succeeded to the throne of
Elizabeth ; and from being a petty king, brow-beat by his
clergy and intimidated by his nobles, he suddenly found him-
self the almost absolute monarch of a great kingdom. In
Church affairs he bad all along been influenced by Anglican
examples ; but now when he was surrounded by bishops and
deans, and felt the strength which his new position gave him,
he set himself with more earnestness than ever to the work of
religious uniformity. It was a natural and excusable ambition,
had he gone about the matter in a kindly and constitutional
way. But that was not James's way — especially now. He
dissolved Assemblies which he thought would be unruly ; and
cast the ministers, who met in spite of him, into jail. He
called other Assemblies, when and where he pleased, by his
own kingly prerogative, and packed them with his own
creatures. In this way the work was easily and effectually
done. In an Assembly which met at Glasgow in 1610, the
Presbyterian polity was pulled down, stone by stone, by the
hands of Presbyterian ministers, and the Episcopal polity set
up in its room. The Parliament had been still more prompt
than the Assembly. In 1606 it had repealed the Act of
Annexation so far as the episcopal lands were concerned, and
in 16 1 2 it gave full legal status to the episcopal order.

But could Parliament or General Assembly make bishops ?
Up to this time they had both made and unmade them. But
different ideas upon this point were now prevalent in England,
and James had inhaled these. Archbishop Bancroft had
bitterly attacked the Scotch Church, as an institution of
Genevese origin. It had no divine right, no apostolical suc-
cession. The Scotch ministers designated to the Episcopate
must therefore go to England and receive the Episcopal grace,
and through the Enghsh line of succession link themselves with



Episcopacy, Presbytery, and Puritanism in Scotland. 173

the Apostles. Spottisvvood, Lamb, and Hamilton went ; and
having been consecrated by the Bishops of London, Ely, and
Bath, they returned, bringing with them a true Church. Shall
we blame them for their subserviency ? Not much, for ' he
that desireth the office of a bishop, desireth a good thing;' and
we must remember that Anglican ideas were at that time telling
powerfully on the Scotch clergy through kingly and courtly
influences. Anglican influences are acting upon us now, and
they always will.

But what of that unflinching presbyter, Andrew Melville?
He was not a man to be bribed by mitres. He was not a
scholar to be daunted by Bancroft, albeit he was an Arch-
bishop. He had already pulled down a whole hierarchy ; and
when James, timid and testy, would not listen to him, he had
taken him by the sleeve and told him he was ' God's silly vassal.'
James knew he must either be won over or got rid of. He
was invited to the English court, and put through a course of
Episcopal divinity — a very farcical proceeding ; but it appears
to have done him harm rather than good. He amused him-
self with writing a Latin lampoon upon what he had seen in
the Chapel-Royal. It unfortunately found its way into the
king's hands, and the too witty presbyter was found guilty of
a misdemeanour by the Privy Council, and sent to the Tower.
There he lay for three years, when he was allowed to retire to
France and accept a professorship at Sedan, now famous for
the destruction of the French army and empire. He never
saw his native country more. That was the way in which
James used his invited guest — the ablest and honestest
ecclesiastic in his kingdom.

Melville is undoubtedly one of the most massive figures in
Scotch ecclesiastical history. In scholarship and manly grasp
of mind, he excelled Knox. In courage and disinterestedness,
he was equal to him. He was the great Northern apostle of
high Church principles — the Hildebrand of Presbytery. These
principles were not in much favour in England in those days, for



174 "S*/ Giles' Lechtres.



Henry would have taken off the head and Elizabeth would
have torn off the frock of any priest who disputed the royal
authority ; and James, though not so violent in his way, had
quite as high conceptions of prerogative, in all causes, ecclesi-
astical as well as civil. But had Melville lived in our own
more tolerant day, he might have been hailed as the greatest
champion of the spiritual power on both sides of the Border.

The Church of Scotland was now Episcopal — more Episcopal
than it had ever been since the Reformation. But its worship
was somewhat balder and barer than in the sister Church.
There were no sacerdotal vestments, no choral singing, no
organs. James was determined there should be uniformity in
all things. In 1617 he revisited his native country after an
absence of thirteen years, and he took care that the service in
the chapel at Holyrood should be conducted with all the
splendour of the Anglican ritual. He explained to the bishops
and nobles his views as to the future worship of the Church,
told them he might make the changes by virtue of his own
royal prerogative ; but that out of deference to popular preju-
dices, he would leave it to the General Assembly. Next year,
16 18, the Assembly met at Perth, and a famous Assembly it
was. The Dean of Winchester brought before it Five Articles
which the ecclesiastical monarch had drawn up, and which he
wished the Assembly to pass into law. They were : (i) That
the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ should be
received kneeling ; (2) That it might be administered in private
to the sick ; (3) That infants might be baptised at home when
they could not conveniently be brought to church ; (4) That
all children of eight years of age, after having learned the Lord's
Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments, should be
brought to the bishop to be blessed ; (5) That the days com-
memorative of Christ's birth, passion, resurrection, and ascen-
sion, and of the descent of the Holy Ghost, should be observed
as holidays.

These Five Articles would not stagger us very much now



Episcopacy, Presbytery, attd Puritanism in Scotland. 1 7 5



unless, perchance, the first. Two or three of them are less or
more a part of our modern Presbyterian usage. But they did
stagger and distress our ancestors two hundred and sixty years
ago. They regarded the Articles as a reversion to Popery ;
and, moreover, they did not like to have them thus forced upon
them by the king. Nevertheless, they were passed by the
Assembly, for both bribery and intimidation were employed,
and the cringing courtiers outvoted the independent ministers.
But it was soon found that it was more easy to make such
regulations than to get people to keep them. Some kept
Christmas and Easter, others did not. Some ministers gave
the sacrament to kneeling communicants ; others adhered to
the old communion table, in scenic representation of the last
supper at Jerusalem. In many churches there were confusion
and distress from the conflict between the old forms and
the new.

So far as we can trace, the revolution which had set up
the hierarchy had never greatly stirred popular passion. The
jealousies and grudges, the ideas and arguments which it
evoked, had not penetrated much below the clergy and the
lairds. But these new questions about worship touched every
man, woman, and child. Those who did not care a straw
whether the ministers in the cathedral towns were called
presbyters or bishops — it was no matter of theirs — did care that
the worship to which they had been accustomed from their
infancy should not be disturbed by king or courtier. We know
what is happening in England at this day in many churches
where an elaborate Ritualism is being introduced — the heart-
burnings, the rioting, the appeals to the law-courts — and it may
help to illustrate the state of feeling in Scotland for years after
the Assembly of 1618. It was plain that a revolution of the
national worship was not to be effected so easily as had the
revolution of the Church's polity.

And yet, now in the nineteenth century, we feel it might be
possible to conform the worship of the Church of Scotland to



176 S^ Giles^ Lectures.



that of England ; but its polity — never. Not that we think
Presbytery divinely right and Episcopacy essentially wrong;
but because we think no form of Church government has a
prescriptive right, and that that form, be it Episcopal, Presby-
terian, or Congregational, is the divinest and the best which
works the best. We can never now belie our history by sur-
rendering our Presbyterianism, or renounce our reason by
believing that religion depends upon a trinity of Orders.

In 1625 James died — not much lamented in his native
country. He was succeeded by his son Charles I., a man of
graver manners, and greater earnestness, but bigoted and
obstinate in the last degree. From this time on till 1633 the
history of the Scotch Church is a dead flat, with no incidents
of much interest rising above the ordinary level. In 1633
Charles came to Scotland to be crowned with the crown of his
ancestors. He was accompanied by William Laud, then Bishop
of London, and on the fair way to be Archbishop of Canterbury.
On Sunday the 23d of June he came to this church (St Giles')
to worship, but the ordinary officials were hustled out of their
places; two English chaplains, in surplices, read the lessons
and the prayers; and the Bishop of Moray, also in a surplice,
preached the sermon. How different from this the conduct of
our gracious Queen, when she goes to the humble church of
Crathie, and joins in its worship according to the usual simple
ritual of the country !

Charles was not idle while in Edinburgh, for he had resolved
on a great deal of legislation, some of it of rather an explosive
kind. An act which continued to him the paternal tailoring
prerogative of prescribing vestments for the clergy, excited
violent opposition. Curious that clerical costumes should have
excited such agitations in all ages and all churches. But if
Carlyle and other philosophers who have written about clothes,
be right, perhaps chasubles, albs, stoles, birettas, hoods, capes
are worth all the commotion they have caused.

There was another matter which caused still greater alarm in



Episcopacy, Presbytery, and Puritanistn in Scotlajid. 177



a different quarter : the king had set his heart on recovering the
Church lands and tithes, more especially those granted during
his father's minority, but found he had undertaken an impos-
sible task. The possessors held on to them with a death-grip ;
but they were greatly alarmed, as they well might. He had,
however, devised the scheme by which the stipends of the clergy
are still paid out of the teinds of their parishes, and the
Parliament of 1633 gave it its sanction. It was at the time a
great improvement upon the older methods, and so far the
Church is Charles' debtor ; but as it made the valuation of
land at that time the valuation for all time, although the real
value might have increased twenty-fold, it owes him no thanks.
Every one is now crying out for a change in the teind laws.

Another good thing he did — he laid in that parliament one of
the chief foundation-stones of our parochial school system.

There was another thing he did ; and I suppose that in this
building, I must say it was a good thing too. He erected



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 19 of 37)